I have written before about why I like carrying a book in my daily bag even if I know I might not get to read it. There is something about the company of a known written work that pleases me. When read in different contexts or at different moments in time, the ideas, the language, create new lacework for me to explore; and yet, the thread remains familiar. There is a relationship between mind, heart, Word, and environment that is creative. Doors open, veils drop, stone walls tumble, the boat is launched. And with the crack of a spine or the ‘shoof’ of a page, I have entered a space that would not otherwise be available. So, even when I don’t read the book in my bag, the possibility that it holds to lead me into these spaces, is a potential I find pleasing.
That said, there are other texts…those texts that are with me always, no matter the book in my bag. The lines that are summoned during a wonder; the memory of a book or reference that informs a conversation; or a casual mention that has me recall—Oh yes, I remember meeting those lines, that poet, that rhythm or sound…—and I find myself mentally unfolding a piece of paper that had been saved but perhaps shuffled into a pile, or wad, of other memories/references.
That happened to me recently with a three-line Mary Oliver poem within a poem. The lines are widely known, and in fact, known by heart by me; however, I hadn’t thought of them in a while.
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
—from the poem “Sometimes” in Redbird; Beacon Press: Boston, 2009; p. 37—
At times, these lines have helped me frame my curiosity, wonder, and passion for written expression. Given the context of their unfolding this time around—a gathering of 42 RSCJ ranging from their 30s-70s who spent the weekend together in prayer, laughter, and sometimes challenging invitation, in listening, and in meaningful conversation—I find in them a simple statement of that to which I have given my life.
Pay attention…to God; to the world; to the neighbor; to the mirror; to that which cries out, aches, is in need.
Be astonished… be filled with awe, be angry, weep, gnash, act, learn, love, be open, be open, be open…to what is encountered.
Tell about it… Be affected, let the world affect me, who I am and how I am; Act out of that; write out of that; proclaim out of that in word and in deed and in the life lived and the things loved and the ideals believed in (Janet Erskine Stuart, RSCJ).
(And the tatting begins anew…)
Which all together calls to mind paragraph 4 of our Constitutions:
By our charism, we are consecrated/ to GLORIFYING THE HEART OF JESUS: /we answer His call/to discover and reveal His love/ letting ourselves be transformed by His Spirit/ so as to live united and conformed to Him,/ and through our love and service/ to radiate the very love of His Heart.
As well as the poem, Famous by poet Naomi Shihab Nye:
The river is famous to the fish.
The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.
The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.
The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.
The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.
The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.
The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.
I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.
And sometimes, to remember what that is, I find it helpful to write something down…to add a few knots of life and language to the lacework that somehow draws together what is lived, how it is lived and to what end, and the call to still more…
a free-form act of Love in the world.