“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver
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’d like to think that I am good, but knowing that I am loved despite all my faults, despite all my failed attempts at sainthood — can you see how difficult it is to follow in Your footsteps? — is enough.
We are all in this together, even if there are a smattering of bewildered ones who seem to think that it is best to attack and harm and ostracize. Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift,” Mary Oliver writes. If you’ve tasted from your own box of darkness, you’ll know it tastes far bitterer when someone you love hands it over.
As a Mama Bear, its flavor holds a unique repugnance. Watching your child experience the gift of darkness, carrying his heart in your hands, praying for the world to dissipate and spiritual reality to speak. The wild geese calling in Oliver’s poem tell me to drink the full cup of our Creator’s love, including life’s pain, and “forgive men when they sin against you.” (Matthew 6:14)
No, you don’t have to walk on my knees for a hundred miles in the desert in repentance. It just feels like it at times.
Father Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, tells us that forgiveness is a necessary step on our spiritual journey. Just like Jesus, how we choose to react to betrayal will determine our future health and relationships. Rohr says he can see it in the faces of people, the hardness in our movements and in our walks, that sense of unforgiven betrayal and the inability to release the perpetrators from our offended hearts.
It’s easy to be cynical. It’s easy to want to blame another for your pain. But the truth is, we’re all part of “an essentially tragic nature,” inherently imperfect, and unable to achieve the Divine Level (for anything longer than a breath).
Is it easier, I wonder, to release those who are strangers to Divine Mercy, or to forgive those who should know better than to be heartless? Does it really matter? Both are equally deserving in His eyes. Both are worthy of and “live under the waterfall of divine mercy.”
Without a safe place to go, something to fill the barrenness, it’s impossible to forgive. Rohr calls it “releasement.” You can only truly forgive or release when you find something to replace the gaping hole that remains.
As I read the story of the band Gungor, I stood in witness to a tale that carries betrayal at a level you can only experience as a public figure. Betrayal so big that my heart can’t even imagine it. Christians clothed in self-righteousness, masquerading as truth-tellers, huddling in their self-appointed huddles. Yet Gungor is determined to follow in Christ’s footsteps and release every single one of those who choose to cause pain.
Even though prayer has, as Rohr says, been trivialized, it still carries an essential ticket to our releasement. We are engaging in, as Paul says in Philippians 4:8, the power of positive thinking.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Instead of imagining your enemy sitting in a corner with a dunce cap (okay, that’s a really tame imagining, but it’s better than saying they’re being attacked by various venomous creatures or other ambiguous tortures), think positive thoughts. When your heart is plundered, that empty space is the void that calls to you, saying, “Hey, come join me down here! It’s cozy and dark and you can just sink into the oblivion of nothingness.”
Except it’s not nothing. It’s everything your worst nightmares ever conjured. That satisfaction you get from imagining those who’ve caused you pain clenched in the jaws of a monstrous beast (like that one better?) will turn around and bite you back. “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die,” the Buddha warns us. There’s only one way to get the relief you so long for.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
You. “It’s always only You.” Gungor comes full circle in experiencing life and it’s crazy turns in “You” from the album One Wild Life:Soul. Where else can you go but wide and long and deep in the comfort of God’s grace? Go there, or keep falling into the pit of nothingness.
As you fill yourself with something better than poison, you’ll transform your pain. Rohr tells us that with a “deep gratitude for our own undeserved grace and mercy,” we can move past the hurts. They don’t warrant our energy. The scariest part of failing to do this, for me, is the idea that “if you do not transform your pain, you will with 100 percent certainty transmit it to others.”
There’s little choice then, unless you want to let hate mold you into the same monster you imagined swallowing whole your adversary. “You cannot love in moderation,” Gungor tells us in “Land of the Living.” How do you love then? “Lay your soul on the threshing floor.”
So that’s it. The only way out of your tangle with the demons of unforgiveness. Love big, there’s no other way, and while you’re at it, hand over your dredged-open soul to the only One who can fill it up.
The threshing floor is where your pain is winnowed out, fanned away, and Love is laid bare. Here is where you can think of each person who has offended you in some way, then release them in love.
From Gungor’s “It’s Us for Them” in One Wild Life:Soul, the first in a trilogy of albums.
People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar. – Thich Nhat Hanh