Been away from here for a few days.But been doing other things that brought me into good company, lovely countryside and conveyor belts of rain! Been at Grasmere with the good folks of Northern Baptist Learning Community sharing their staff retreat and helping provide guidance and stimulus towards renewal and refreshment after a long demanding year. So we had some of Mary Oliver's poems, an eclectic choice of music that reflects my own enthusiasms, a number of pictures and images which express beauty and the joy or sadness that intermingles with our lived experience. And I shared a few soliloquies inspired by several biblical encounters with Jesus - never been sure if they were worth doing more with, but the consensus seems to be a yes. So we'll see.
What became evident though is that on a retreat occasion, a poet like Mary Oliver has the ability to open new doors of perception, encouraging a more attentive, less cursory viewing of the world - to gaze rather than glimpse, to notice rather than merely register, to greet whatever and whoever we meet, with "Hello", rather than to act ignorantly, that is in a way that shows we do not really know or want to know those other presences that would grace our lives if we gave them the time of day, and a little space.
Throughout her recent work there are a number of light-hearted but not insignificant poems about her dog Percy. Here's one that I find irresistible because it is about a dog and books, or in any case about a dog impatient with stupid humans who bury their face in paper instead of looking at the beauty, the fun and the excitement of a colourful world laden with smell and sound.
Percy and Books (eight)
Percy doesn't like it when I read a book.
He puts his face over the top of it and moans.
He rolls his eyes, sometimes he sneezes.
The sun is up, he says, and the wind is down.
The tide is out and the neighbour's dogs are playing.
But Percy, I say. Ideas! The elegance of language!
The insights, the funniness, the beautiful stories
that rise and fall and turn into strength, or courage.
Books? says Percy. I ate one once, and it was enough.
With summer here, an academic year formally completed tomorrow, I'm with Percy. Let's go! Need a holiday and it will come in a few weeks. Meantime in order to enjoy it, I'm going to try to decelerate gently, a foot movement that doesn't come naturally to me. To help me I'll slowly work through several thin books of Mary Oliver's poems, and learn again how to pay attention, to say hello, and give time of day to whoever asks it, or even whoever doesn't.