For the past month, there’s been a poem by Mary Oliver echoing through my head. And what’s funny – or coincidental or providential or whatever you believe about these sorts of things – is that since I first heard the poem about a month ago, I’ve seen it referenced by no less than three different people in blogs and speeches. Weird.
Here are the first lines:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
I’ll tell you right now, some of you just skimmed those lines of the poem. (I know that’s what I’ve done a lot in my life with poetry.) And some of you probably read them and thought to yourself, “meh, don’t know what the big deal is.” And some of you probably projected some ideas you have about me upon the poem and now are questioning my sanity.
But there are probably a few of you who read those lines and you may have gasped because somehow, in some deep, mystical way, those words cut through you.
I call this the ache of wonder. Sometimes a song, a poem, a picture, or a moment, sometimes in a religious space, sometimes in the most ordinary of situations, I see or hear something that is full of meaning and wonder to me. At times, I’ve simply been standing under the open sky at a concert and for whatever reason – the music, the weather, the people I’m with – I have a deep ache inside me.
I don’t think I’m strange in this. I think we all have these moments if we are willing to open ourselves up to them, if we slow down, if we pay attention, if we stop and listen when we feel the invitation to gasp and hold the wonder in our chest, for however long it wants to reside.
I think this is a part of intimacy – when we share these moments, when we share our aches of wonder and we find someone who aches over the same beautiful thing, a connection is made. This is why lovers make mix tapes, why writers write, why painters paint – we’re looking for “our people,” the people who are inspired, moved by some of the same things we are.
“I know that I am not only an ego; I am also a soul. And I know that my soul doesn’t care a whit about reward or failure. My soul is not guided by dreams of praise or fears of criticism. My soul doesn’t even have language for such notions. My soul, when I tend to it, is a far more expansive and fascinating source of guidance than my ego will ever be, because my soul desires only one thing: wonder.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
Yes, in case you’re following along, I’m quoting Big Magic AGAIN. And if you talk to me in real life, I quote “my friend Liz” (not really, but I wish) a lot. But she’s so right – paying attention to wonder connects me to my soul.
So here’s a thought that’s been rattling around. To be honest, I’m a little nervous to put this out there. But I’ve been thinking about creating a wonder gathering (yes, I know I need a new title). I’ve been thinking for a long time that I would love to create a space where I could sit with other wonder-seekers and say, “Here’s a song, here’s a passage from a book, here’s a poem, here’s a food that moves me.” And in turn, I want to sit with other people and their wonder and maybe discover that what causes the ache of wonder in them also causes ache in me.
Maybe you already have this kind of space. I think this is what book clubs can be when they get beyond “What do you think about the text?” and get to “Didn’t this one sentence just cause you to stop and sigh and marvel at the beauty?” I think this is what small groups can be if the members can get beyond discussing ideas about whatever they might be studying and instead get to deep places of intimacy where they share wonder.
I was talking with someone not to long ago, a new friend, and he was telling me of the dance party that he hosts at his house every year to celebrate New Year’s Eve. But also he told me of the email he sends to friends throughout the country asking them, “what are the songs and books that moved you over the last year?” Yes. Dance parties are fun, but sharing wonder moves us towards those whom we love.
At the same time, this idea scares me a little, because to share my wonder is to share my soul and my soul is fragile and doesn’t want to spread itself out to everyone. So here’s a lesser invitation. Share with us one wonder. Share with us in this space a song that you can’t get enough of right now or a picture or lines from a poem.
To rewrite the fifth line from Wild Geese:
Tell me about your wonder, yours, and I will tell you mine.If you liked this post, please share it!