give it a name
Updated: Feb 23
It’s mid-April right now. It snowed yesterday in southern Maine. We’re wading chest deep through a global pandemic. And I’m thinking about The Summer Day. You know, that poem by Mary Oliver, with the often quoted question at the end about your one wild and precious life and what you plan to do with it? That poem that blends the mundane with the existential in a way that prompts a sort of self-determination in the midst of overwhelming queries. I find it calming. And wise fodder for us in the midst of a wilderness season that’s leaving so many of us feeling powerless.
I like how, between the rhetorical questions at the start and that big prompt that punctuates the poem, she spends every other line staring at a bug and ambling through the grass.
Because if you look at the wild stuff around you long enough, with enough intention and intensity, it will become a mirror. If you look at the world with sufficient curiosity in your soul, with an extra measure of humility in your heart, it will whisper back secrets about who you are.
With enough — and when I say enough I’m not speaking in terms of volume or mass or stock, when I say enough I’m speaking of what happens when you hold yourself open to the generosity of the world — with enough perspective, given to you by the insights of otherness, the whole of nature shifts from being a collection of resources designed to satiate your appetites, and becomes instead the source from which you, in your rawest form, spring.
Which begs the question: Where do you, in your truest form, flow? In other words: What’s your bass note? In other words: What’s your vocation? What’s your work in the world? In other words: What’s the constellation of practices, rhythms, values, relationships, convictions, and actions that make you you? That contribute to our shared efforts at making the world better?
It’s a good thing to think about during this wilderness season. And to remember that the wilderness limits our power. It does not negate. Wherever you are, whatever limitations you are bumping into today, whatever creative, basic, simplified forms you might need to take: Don’t forget, you still get to be who you are.
And just what that is.. that’s risky to put words to, because words are never quite right. You never do get a hold of it all the way, because, like Mary said, it’s wild. But go ahead, give it a name. What’s your call?
Naming your call, living your call, doesn’t make you responsible for saving the whole world. It makes you a part of it. I think it’s important to name, because it’s hard to commit to nameless things. It’s hard to be in relationship with nameless things. Mystical experiences? Sure. Ecstatic encounters? You bet. But I think the thing we need right now is the earthbound grit of your self-proclaimed relationship with that particular way of being you.