A conversation with Mary oliver’s poem, Terns

time lapse photography of bird in flight over mountains

Don’t think just now of the trudging forward of thought, but of the wing-drive of unquestioning affirmation….

To unwind the reel and splice the joys, to attempt erasure and unsay the words that slip and form regret, I wish to reach into my yesterday. I can’t.

I would like to go back—I can’t—and tell my youthful self the lessons learned hard by the manner I turned round every corner before each turning loosed me into some unsuspecting failure met.

The years to come—this is a promise—will grant you ample time to try the difficult steps in the empire of thought where you seek for the shining proofs you think you must have….

I remember too well my youthful confidence. Or was it just talk? So cock-fired sure I was in those days. Who needs proof when you know it all? Proof simply validates a desire to be seen and heard. I learned this late.

But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding, than this deepest affinity between your eyes and the world….

My most sincere observations pray by looking back, looking over and into and through and around and seeing, unpremeditated, what is there. I saw I did not need my proof or my confidence. I needed to be open to what God gives and cherish it with an ever-rising and deepening devotion. How should I learn this?

Listen, maybe such devotion, in which one holds the world in the clasp of attention, isn’t the perfect prayer, but it must be close, for the sorrow, whose name is doubt, is thus subdued, and not through the weaponry of reason, but of pure submission. Tell me, what else could beauty be for?

Nothing can be taken back, only let go, maybe forgotten, allowing that prayer of pure submission to heal a soul. I wish my doubts to pass, to leave me alone, and yet to stay, to remind me just the same to stop, look and be quiet. To pray—to observe.

It isn’t instruction, or a parable. It isn’t for any vanity or ambition except for the one allowed, to stay alive.

And what should become of my effort, my scarred and creviced reflections chiseled by sorrow and regret but lift my thought upward, sighing each into thankfulness for wisdom gained? Am I not learning to pray though I do not know I am praying?

And I pray, “Lord, make me to know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life” (Psalm 39:4).

By what measure is my regret subdued, reversible, renewed but through every stream of mercy God gifts when I look at you and say, forgive me, and you grant it with unquestioned affirmation?

And you find, for hours, you cannot even remember the questions that weigh so in your mind.

“Those who have ears to hear, let them hear” (Matthew 11:15, NKJV).

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