The Summer Day (by Mary Oliver)
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I love that line, after seeing the grasshopper that makes her exclaim that she doesn’t know how to pray but that prayer has something to do with paying attention to all the wonders and miracles all around us all the time, but that we fail to see. And she knows how to fall down and kneel in the grass giving thanks for it all.
I created my own prayer definition one day, and I still remember it and it still works for me:
“Prayer is living in constant awareness of God’s loving presence in a spirit of wonder, gratitude and vulnerability.”
Or in Anne Lamott’s words, it has something to do with saying three words, in an attitude of “Wow, Thanks and Help!”
So this poem teaches me about prayer, about the preciousness of life – “Doesn’t everything die at last and too soon?” And about finding purpose in life.
What is our purpose in life? What do you plan to do with your life? How will you not squander it, but live it fully? Finding that purpose makes for one wild ride of adventure in this life Not finding it seems to lead to sadness and melancholy.
My purpose? I’m still trying to figure it out. But the essence of it seems to come down to this – learning how to love God, others and myself. Removing the barriers to that love and setting people free to do the same. And this poem reminds me that through it all I’m also a mystic at heart – for I love to have my heart touched by God so that I can try to touch the hearts of others – to inspire and encourage them, even if it’s through the line of a simple and beautiful poem like this.