This week the Torah offers us the most famous of poems, the Song of the Sea, which contains the words we sing every time we gather for services: Mi Chamocha—“Who is like you O God, among the gods that are worshiped? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, working wonders?” (Exodus 15)
And so in honor of this Shabbat Shirah—the Sabbath of songs and poems—and in gratitude to the many Mary Oliver poetry books that line my shelves and have accompanied me on so many journeys and offered me solace in the most unexpected of locales and uplifted me when I discovered my faith lacking, I offer two of her poems.
On Traveling to Beautiful PlacesYes! I am still searching as well.
Every day I’m still looking for God
and I’m still finding him everywhere,
in the dust, in the flowerbeds.
Certainly in the oceans,
in the islands that lay in the distance
continents of ice, countries of sand
each with its own set of creatures
and God, by whatever name.
How perfect to be aboard a ship with
maybe a hundred years still in my pocket.
But it’s late, for all of us,
and in truth the only ship there is
is the ship we are all on
burning the world as we go.
I recall that next week we will celebrate Tu B’Shevat, the new year for trees, so again I turn to one of Mary Oliver’s teachings.
Leaves and Blossoms Along the WayThe world and its beauty can indeed both shout and whisper. Perhaps all I need to do is slow down and listen. Yes, all important ideas must include the natural world. Still so much remains a mystery. The poet is right.
If you’re John Muir you want trees to
live among. If you’re Emily, a garden
Try to find the right place for yourself.
If you can’t find it, at least dream of it.
When one is alone and lonely, the body
gladly lingers in the wind or rain,
or splashes into the cold river, or
pushes through the ice-crusted snow.
Anything that touches.
God, or the gods, are invisible, quite
understandable. But holiness is visible,
Some words will never leave God’s mouth,
no matter how hard you listen.
In all the works of Beethoven, you will
not find a single lie.
All important ideas must include the trees,
the mountains, and the rivers.
To understand many things you must reach out
of your own condition.
For how many years did I wander slowly
through the forest. What wonder and
glory I would have missed had I ever been
in a hurry!
Beauty can both shout and whisper, and still
it explains nothing.
The point is, you’re you, and that’s for keeps.
You are you.
And all you have is your integrity.