One important part of my work as a college chaplain is to begin faculty and staff meetings with an opening reflection to calm our minds and center our being. The poet Mary Oliver has been my best friend when it comes to finding appropriate material for these reflections.
When Oliver died in 2019, my Facebook feed was full of articles about her and poems by her as many people grieved her death. For me, the beauty of that moment was in seeing how people of different political points of view and various religious and spiritual traditions (and some with no faith tradition at all) unified around their love for this gifted poet and her words.
Oliver’s poem “Messenger” is one of my favorites. In it, she clearly calls us back to what matters most when it comes to our vocation or calling. She writes that loving the world is her work. She goes on to talk about her love for sunflowers and hummingbirds and blue plums, as she reminds us of how good creation is—we need only look up and see it.
In today’s reading, Jesus does not use the same words as Mary Oliver; but it is clear that he loves the world. It is also apparent in Mark’s Gospel that many people are beginning to recognize his love. His love makes such an impression that they go searching for Jesus, even while he prays. Jesus not only lives out his love for the world; he also models what it means to pay attention.
Mary Oliver says, “Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.”* Jesus teaches us that learning to be astonished is a form of prayer and part of our work, the work of loving the world.
*Mary Oliver, Thirst: Poems by Mary Oliver (Boston: Beacon Press, 2006), 1.
Source of Life, help us remember that paying attention is an important part of the life of faith together. Amen.
What is the ultimate source of our strength? All the authors for this week come to the same conclusion: True strength comes from the Lord. Isaiah asks: “Who is like God?” God never grows weary and provides unfailing strength to those who wait for God. The psalmist praises God as the one who lifts up those who are beaten down. It is not those with human strength who are truly mighty but those empowered by God. In First Corinthians, Paul states that he has laid down any form of his own strength so that the gospel may advance. In Mark, Jesus heals many as a demonstration of his power over the physical world. Thus, God’s power is not just a metaphor but a reality.
Read Isaiah 40:21-31. In what ways do you call on God’s unfailing strength? How is that strength sustaining you?
Read Psalm 147:1-11, 20. How do you experience God’s provision in your life? What is your response to God?
Read 1 Corinthians 9:16-23. How are you living out God’s call to you? How has your call evolved over time?
Read Mark 1:29-39. Where is your “deserted place” where you spend time alone with God? What helps you maintain a discipline of spending time alone with God each day?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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