I’ve recently re-discovered poet Mary Oliver, and I wonder why I ever wandered from having her poems echo in my mind and heart daily. One poem that has spoken deeply to my heart is this one:
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 despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
Calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
I love this poem because it reminds me that I have been made in the image of God. As God’s creation, what I most want deep, deep, deep down is union with my first love, the Triune God who made me. All of my efforts to “be good” are really just misguided attempts for union, for oneness. Mary Oliver helps me return to my truest self, with compassion, by reminding me, “You do not have to be good.” Tell that to your inner-Puritan who has been striving to prove your worth through many versions of “walking on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.” All along, Jesus has continued to simply invite, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” This is what I’m really wanting, even though I myself may not always know it. God made “the soft animal of your body,” and He designed that soft animal of you to flourish best in an environment where you are fully known, fully loved, with no fear of rejection. The only place that exists is in the sweet embrace of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.