Mary Oliver and the Four Paths, continued

Mary Oliver calls herself a “praise poet.”  She proves it with a Niagara of observations in praise of life and the beings of the Earth and her response to it all.  She writes about foxes and such things in poems that will move people to “shiver with praise” (257)—that is how she sees her vocation as a poet. 

She writes:

“Look, I want to love this world
as though it’s the last chance I’m ever going to get
to be alive
and know it….”  (309f) 

“Bee on Sunflower” Photo by Behzad Ghaffarian on Unsplash

Oliver has a deep sense of the Original Blessing that life is.  In a poem called “Hum” she observes the worker bee carefully and tells us that they live about three weeks.

“Is that long?  Long enough, I suppose to understand
that life is a blessing.”

She tells us this of her philosophy:

         “I think there isn’t anything in this world I don’t
admire.  If there is, I don’t know what it is.  I
haven’t met it yet.  Nor expect to.”

And she celebrates
“the fragrance, and the honey, and of course
the sun, the purely pure sun, shining, all the while, over
all of us.”  (145)

She speaks to both beauty (the Via Positiva) and our responsibility to care for it (the Via Transformativa).

A lifetime isn’t long enough for the beauty of this world
and the responsibilities of your life.”  (232)

This Laysan Albatross chick starved to death because its parents fed it plastic flotsam. Lighters, bottle caps, toys, pens, markers, toothbrushes and miles of fishing line were found in dead chicks. Photo by Duncan on Flickr

At this dark time of history, how important is it that “praise poets” rise to the surface and be heard?  Is that itself an act of interference, i.e. a prophetic act, namely to be a herald of praise? 

Though a “praise poet” she is not at all unfamiliar with the pain of life, the Via Negativa.

In a poem called “Lead” she tells of a loon she found dead on the shore with many other dead loons.

“I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.”  (146f)

“Banksy in Boston: F̶O̶L̶L̶O̶W̶ ̶Y̶O̶U̶R̶ ̶D̶R̶E̶A̶M̶S̶ CANCELLED, Essex St, Chinatown, Boston” Photo by Chris Devers on Flickr

Practicing the Via Transformativa, she speaks truth to power and stands up against injustice.  Her poem “Of the Empire” laments our culture this way.

“We will be known as a culture that feared death
and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity
for the few and cared little for the penury of the

the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a

Cutting ties to Wall Street: on 10/3/19, California governor Gavin Newsome signed legislation allowing creation of 10 city-based banking institutions to support local social/economic priorities. Photo by SF Public Banking Coalition.

and that the heart, in those days,
was small, and hard, and full of meanness.” 

Oliver tells us she wants one day to hear herself cry out:

“The house of money is falling!
The house of money is falling!  The weeds are
Rising!  The weeds are rising!”

All the citations of Mary Oliver’s poems here are from Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (NY: Putnam, 2017), a volume she put together before she died in January, 2019. 
Banner Image: “Gazing Out Over Rice Paddies.’ Photo by Artem Kovalev on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Do you want to love the world “as if it is the last chance you will ever get”?  What is holding you back?

Rabbi Heschel says “praise precedes faith.”  Is Mary Oliver out front of faith and all the arguments and concepts of faith traditions that divide and saying, “let us return to creation/nature as our common ground for celebrating our shared existence and fight human folly.  And here is how to do it.”?  Do you want to follow her, is she calling you?

Recommended Reading

Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.

Fox’s spirituality weds the healing and liberation found in North American Creation Spirituality and in South American Liberation Theology. Creation Spirituality challenges readers of every religious and political persuasion to unite in a new vision through which we learn to honor the earth and the people who inhabit it as the gift of a good and just Creator.

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16 thoughts on “Mary Oliver and the Four Paths, continued”

    1. Avatar

      Your new immediate format on the iPhone does not work. Print is small and smaller. Pictures too are not really viewable. Your website is far, far superior. Including the link to it for those who want it would be appreciated.

      1. Phila Hoopes

        Dear John,

        Thank you for your feedback…we’re so sorry that this format doesn’t work on your device. Any further information you can provide – or screenshots if possible – would help us to address this with our email provider.

        And please rest assured that the link to the current post will always be available – just click on the still shot of Matthew giving his video. I will see where else I can put a link to the current post for those who need it.

        Phila Hoopes
        Blog Coordinator

  1. Avatar

    Part of my daily spiritual practice is to read something from Matthew Fox and something from Mary Oliver. I’m so enjoying these meditations which combine these two great mystics, thank you.
    And the new format is great.
    Joan Doyle

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Joan,
      Thank you for letting us know about your daily practice of reading Matt and Mary. This must have been a special few days in these meditations for you. You are on our wavelength!
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditations Team

  2. Avatar

    The work Mathew Fox is doing is both wonderful and necessary!

    One small request, from my perspective, the new email format doesn’t (and perhaps can’t) do justice to the text and photography as compared to the presentation on the website. Like a previous commentator, I find that particular design to be more harmonious. Please continue to keep those beautiful website compositions accessible. Thank you very much!

    1. Phila Hoopes

      Thank you for your feedback and kind words, EPC!
      Yes, trying to translate from the website to an email format does pose more than a few challenges. Please rest assured that you will always be able to go to the website and read the post there – we have an easy link to the current post through the image of Matthew giving his video.

      Phila Hoopes
      Blog Coordinator

    2. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Eric,
      While that new email format may not be as pleasing to you as before, you can go to the website and experience the meditation in its usual format. ( The new format allows people to download the meditation and visuals so they can read them at any time. It was created in response to requests for this capability.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  3. Avatar
    Barbara Schwartzbach

    Love, love this , site. I am filled from readings and post. You all are a daily blessing in my life.

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