Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 21

Day 21 22nd March Mary Oliver

A Modern day poet who knew exactly what Hildegard meant about the “greening power of nature” (see day 14) was Mary Oliver, who was born in 1935 and died quite recently in January 2019. I am sure Mary Oliver would laugh at the idea of me classing her as a saint but I believe in years to come she will be remembered by many in this way. Like Hildegard from the 12th century, she was a mystical visionary that saw the hand of the divine in the whole of nature, she often spoke of the God of the dirt. Mary Oliver recognised the power of the holy flowing through all created things from dirt, to weeds, to exotic flowers; from a humble toad to a majestic eagle. She was not just a nature poet who saw the loveliness of nature; she saw and wrote about it in all its harshness as well its beauty. It all, for her, portrayed the hand of the creator, contained angels and messengers, and called us to enter its realm. If you want to give yourself a Lenten treat look her up on YouTube and listen to her recite her poetry.
Mary Oliver was born in Ohio, USA, and in her early years worked as personal assistant to a collector of poetry. She had her first collection of poems published in 1963 and from then on regularly had books on poems and essays published, winning many awards and much acclaim. In the 1950’s she met the photographer Molly Malone Cook and she became her devoted partner for over 40 years until Molly Cook’s death. For her work Mary Oliver needed solitude and space to observe and become absorbed in nature in a very profound way. For her there was no distinction between being absorbed in nature and being absorbed in God, it was all prayer.
What Mary Oliver has taught me, and a gift I believe she leaves for the world, is to look at the ordinary, everyday, aspects of nature with an attitude of amazement and wonder. To take time and look deeply and see beyond what we initially perceive. If we look long enough with openness and attentiveness, she tells us, we will see beyond the surface of things and we will discover the holy at the centre of them. Hildegard of Bingen would have agreed entirely. Let me allow Mary Oliver herself to sum up in her own words.

“My work is loving the world….it was what I was born for –
to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this great soft world –
to instruct myself over and over in joy and acclamation”.


Some Poems by Mary Oliver

The Sun

Have you ever seen
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats towards the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone –
and how it glides again

out of the blackness
every morning
on the other side of the world
like a red flower

streaming upwards on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance –
and have you felt for anything

such wild love –
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you
as the sun
reaches out
as it warms you

as you stand there,
empty handed –
or have you too
turned from this world

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?

From One Or Two Things

The god of dirt
came up to me many times and said
so many wise and delectable things, I lay
on the grass listening
to his dog voice
crow voice
frog voice; now
he said, and now,
and never once mentioned forever.


Every day
I see or hear
that more or less
kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle
in a haystack
of light.
It is what I was born for –
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world –
to instruct myself
over and over
in joy and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant –
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
as these –
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the oceans shrine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?