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Monday, May 3, 2021

The Sacred Blessings of Poetry | by Eva Whittaker

I often feel that when I need it most, poetry finds me. Often, I’m introduced and enlightened to poetry through teaching or friends. I remember reading this glorious little book inspired by William Blake’s beautiful poetry when I was small, and feeling inspired by the worlds and magic his words were able to conjure. But when there is something that is going unsaid inside me, or something I want to put words to but cannot, poetry captures what I'm feeling or experiencing. 

When I’ve felt lost or alone, or full of reverence for community or the natural world, I often find that poems hold all that I cannot express with words I might never have found. Mary Oliver or Derek Walcott or Joy Harjo or John O'Donohue spoke to me, and provided knowledge or love, and most importantly, accompaniment. Their words become embodied and feel like blessings. Every meeting and reading feels deeply spiritual to me, an affirmation of where I am in my life and in the world.

This is form that holds complexity with grace, not diluting life or love or change, or something like buttoning and unbuttoning one’s shirt, through written expression, but allowing us to speak and hear and feel the depth of everything we experience alone and together. Our lives are full of so much which defies words or language - but in poetry, these things become felt and we are able to know deeply that which the words might only point to. 

I remember celebrating Poem in Your Pocket Day (April 29th) in school and feeling warmed by the words and ideas I carried around all day. This year, I had two poems in my pocket as I walked around my house. One is Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye. She writes:

"Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,        you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend."
(You can hear her read her poem here.) 

The inevitability and the imperative of kindness feel especially resonant with me - something I hope to embody in all the ways I move through the world. This is also a deeply important reminder that when we are able to come into a relationship with hardship, good things may grow from mistakes and experience.

The other is Beannacht, a Blessing by John O'Donohue. He writes, to close his blessing:

"When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home..."

"...may a slow

Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life."
(You can hear him read his poem here.)  

This beautifully encapsulates how I feel poetry - sometimes as a beam of light and guidance, sometimes as a warm comfort and safety.

These poems illuminate both my present and my path forward. They both affirm the heart-hurt and suffering I've felt and seen around me over the course of this year, and allow me to move from grief into mourning - from stagnancy into growth - as Theologian Serene Jones explains. I am grateful for their guidance, and for the thoughtfulness of the imaginative and thoughtful people who brought them into being. As April moves into May and Spring comes more fully into being, poetry allows me to open up more fully to the greenery and light, and recognize the generative and the sacred in all that surrounds me.