Un-Complicating the Simple

Water_lilies    I am a fan of the poet Mary Oliver, though I really couldn’t specifically say why.  I suppose that’s the way it is with real art – you know it when you see it.  And I see it in the words she uses to craft her poetry.

Poetry is difficult for that very reason.  One has to take a thought or an observation and translate it into a word or two, conveying the subtle nuances with astounding brevity.  It takes a true craftsman (craftsperson?) to do that, and as a lover of words, it pleases me to allow her poetry to paint glorious pictures and amazing truths in my mind.

Oliver has a new book of poems, and I was reading an article about what it is that makes her poetry, and the work of other poets, speak:

Into the void came poets who spoke of spiritual emotions that were neglected or condemned by organized religion. Poetry explored dreams. It celebrated the body, the animal world, the awakened life of nature. It offered praise, sometimes to God, sometimes to itself, for our connection to all those things.(Ray Waddle)

I believe that this is true – poetry manages to cut through the doctrinal disagreements, the judgments, the “shoulding” that we do on each other, to speak truths about ourselves, this world, and our God in a way that makes what seems so complicated on a Sunday morning seem so simple on a beautiful summer evening, or in a winter’s day reflection.

One of the truths that I hear spoken through Oliver’s poetry is the theme that we are perfectly imperfect, glorious beyond measure just the same.  One of my favorite Oliver poems is called “The Ponds.”  In it, she describes the beautiful lilies that crowd the ponds during midsummer, looking so perfectly beautiful, but when she looks more closely, she sees that one is lop-sided and another one has some blight, and still another is starting to decay.  Despite the imperfections she sees up close, this is her conclusion:

I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—                                                               water lily

that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum

of each flawed blossom rising and fading.  And I do.

“The Ponds” by Mary Oliver

Words carefully chosen like these speak volumes about our glorious imperfections and how, because the Light is everything, it more than makes up for any flaw or fading.  I believe this is the challenge of the church – to speak with words carefully chosen, illuminating the glory in each one that has been there all along.

In language that is simple and clear, Oliver manages to communicate a truth that many have found elusive.  In our churches today, we could learn a lesson about simplicity and clarity through the lessons in nature all around us, instead of always complicating the simple. Leaving the “shoulds” and “have to’s” behind, we are able to embrace all that we have and all that we are, thanks to our relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit.

~by Nan Kuhlman

2 comments so far

  1. Jeannine on

    Absolutely beautiful, Nan. An enormous AMEN from me!


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