When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
- Mary Oliver -
I don’t know whether Mary Oliver centers or not, but she certainly offers some great images of the spiritual journey.
In this poem, she writes about “hints of gladness.” When I first started Centering Prayer, I felt such hints. Moments of consolations encouraged me to continue this prayer practice despite my family’s and my own incredulity.
In the second stanza, Mary Oliver shifts from feeling “hints of gladness” to feeling “distant from the hope of myself.” As I continued to practice, I also experienced a falling off, a disillusionment. Centering Prayer often resulted in self awareness that was not consoling. I realized I was not the person I wanted to be, “the hope of myself.” To borrow Mary Oliver’s terms, I became increasingly aware that I was not full of goodness or discernment.
Mary Oliver wants to “never hurry through the world, but walk slowly, and bow often.” My wishes were more grandiose. I wanted to walk a few inches above the ground - hovering in holiness, exuding serenity and wisdom. I wanted to be a saint - or more specifically, I wanted you to find me saintly.
Centering Prayer disabused me of this image. The prayer exposed my unruly hunger for the esteem of others and identify its source in my false sense of self. It was through Centering Prayer that I learned I would not find happiness in a life governed by my false self’s will.
Trees call Mary Oliver beyond her false self by inviting her to “stay awhile” in their presence. Some Mystery that spoke silence invites me to stay in my chair, “sitting comfortably and with eyes closed.” Whether I am feeling consolation or desolation, I too am asked to stay awhile, to consent to a Presence that I cannot name or understand.
According to the trees that talk to Mary Oliver, “It’s simple.” The method of Centering Prayer is also simple. And, like Mary Oliver’s trees, the practice seeks to remind me that I “too have come/into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled/with light and to shine.”
I could almost say that Centering Prayer is saving me daily, the True Self that dwells deep within me.