“I Go Down To The Shore”
I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.”
― Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings
My two invisible but very real companions overt these few days of quiet prayer are Mary Oliver and Thomas Merton. Both of them, I must begin by saying, are still very much alive in the only ways that ultimately count. I love this poem from Oliver’s 2012 collection, A Thousand Mornings. It so much helps me to set in context my own inner unease, unrest, ongoing imbroglio. I can think – perhaps we all can? – that the world is circling anxiously at a given moment around the truth that I am tired, or dissatisfied, or confused, or worn out, or under extreme duress. Any or all of these might at a given time be quite true of me. But Oliver’s shared insight, looking at the tide coming in and going out, is perfect. What is significant to me, in me, today, is at its most significant one absolutely invisible slice of the stress of the human and created world. And the things that go on, like the tide, will go on with or without me. They may not need even my cooperation. And finally whether or not I get out of the way will hardly matter. Be I there or not, the waters will roll in and roll out again.
This is a saving truth for me to see and feel this week. Whenever I arrange to take a few days retreat, I do so almost always not in a proactive manner, but because there is somewhere in me a sense of needing it. But that inchoate sense only reveals itself more fully after arrival into the quiet. I never know, until I arrive at the place that gives me permission to know, that I am as tightly wound as the silage in the west of Ireland sealed airtight in plastic and awaiting its further usefulness dotted around the fields at the end of the growing season, or as the big boats at the marinas wrapped up the same way to survive the winter weather and wait for the spring and calmer waters. I am often, by the time I head for a place like this, as wound tightly as they are.
Further, I am usually also more tired than I knew, more deeply weary and worn.
These things reveal themselves after my arrival at the kind of place that is built to really ask, “how are you?” in a way that almost nothing in daily life does. This is grace and potential release, certainly. But Mary Oliver’s words above remind me also, in a deeper fashion, that however I am, I feel, i tire, I hope or despair – all this is only one infinitesimal slice of all that is.
So . . . relax, Just let it go. Just let it melt away (unlike the snows outside these walls). Because it will melt away. It will go. Here is the Heart and the Hands (to be entirely anthropo-centered) that can and will absorb it all, place it in loving context, and issue the invitation to a renewed day.
(Winter Retreat, day 3, morning)