This reflection was shared at a Still Point Mountain Retreat partners meeting on May 3, 2014. It begins with a poem by Mary Oliver:
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.
Mary Oliver famously once gave her instructions for being a poet, or for living for that matter: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
I have from time to time wondered why I do the things I do in my life; and like all of you, I do a lot. I still parent my grown children; I enjoy my grandchildren; I companion my spouse; I wrestle around in the holy mess that is community; I volunteer and live at Rolling Ridge; I work with Friends of Silence; I have paid work as a writer and arts coordinator for a special ed school; I dance; and I get involved with people and places and communities like Still Point Mountain Retreat. So do you. Sometimes I pause to ask myself, (and it might behoove us as the Still Point community, to pause together from time to time to do the same): I ask myself, why? with everything else that we have to be and do with our lives, why are we here, working to care for Still Point, choosing one more thing to be and do in our lives, being part of the Still Point adventure with all its time and energy demands, maintenance needs, things to fix and clean, and wood to split, and all the rest.
Mary Oliver, after all, apparently has a much simpler, more stream lined life. She has it pared down to the essentials: “My work is loving the world..."
Well, finally, weather wise, here on the mountain, after a long winter and a spotty spring, it’s a great time to be around in that world, loving it." This is the weekend just after the great Celtic festival of Beltane, a fire feast marking the pre-cursor days of summer, the season of bounty and beauty." The sun is pouring golden, life-provoking light on the earth, which responds by flowering and blooming, a riot of color, smells, and sounds." You may have noticed, walking around up here, that the red-breasted grosbeaks are stopping through just now, on their migrations northward." Their striking black, white and red feathers are a blast of color in the overhead branches." The hummingbirds are back, tiny whizzing iridescent bursts of joy amid the azaleas." The bluebells are out...have been for some time, in fact they are almost ready to fade again." The dogwoods and redbuds are lacy, bright fountains in the woods." The frogs have taken up their sweet, high chorusing in the evening air. This morning, I heard the melodious trill of the wood thrush.
And in the midst of all this, high on its perch overlooking the Shenandoah, is Still Point." When Bob first named it that, after the famous lines in TS Eliot’s poem, we all chuckled." This place is not at all a point...it is more of a moderately rounded, mid-sized foothill of the Blue Ridge; and it is rarely still—the breezes sweep through here continuously, the trees rustle, birds sing, squirrels and people chatter, communities gather, children run, chipmunks scurry.
And yet, it turns out, Bob had it right." The Still Point is that centered place from which we can look out at the turning world and be astonished. We only have to stand on the deck for a minute at sunset, or glance up at the stars after nightfall, or wander down to the pond in the early morning quiet, or catch a flash in a tree, a wisp of birdsong. So, when we ask ourselves what we are doing here, and consider the most real and honest answer, isn’t that it? isn’t that why we’ve come to be part of Still Point?" Because we all need a place where we can pay attention and be astonished." And we want to be part of making that place for ourselves and for others.
So, the work of Still Point really is loving the world—here the dogwoods, there the hummingbirds, all the lovers of sweetness right here in our 40 or so acres nestled against Rolling Ridge. So we create and sustain this haven of wonder and amazement for ourselves and our friends, our retreatants, campers, and guests. Thus we all can simply pay attention and be astonished." And if we do pay attention and are astonished, at the Still Point, at this Still Point, we may find more. "As Mary Oliver says, we can discover how it is that we live forever."