The Sacred: Clinging

Each day now, the darkness closes in on us from both directions.  Darkness lingers longer in the morning, and it rushes back around us so much earlier each afternoon.  Even in the wintermiddle of the day the weather creates shadows and weak light.  Things are dying.  The flowers.  The presence of butterflies and birds.  The trees.

What if we just decided to embrace it, walk in it, allow it to wrap around us a little more than we normally do? One of my favorite poems is Mary Oliver’s “When Death Comes.”   Oliver first envisions death like the great bear coming with coins to purchase us:

When death comes

Like the hungry bear in autumn;

When death comes and takes all the bright coins from

His purse

To buy me, and snaps the purse shut;

It’s a bold look she takes in the face of death– not making it out to be sweet or gentle or friendly.  A hungry bear.  Coins in purse.  Ready to purchase us for itself.

If we knew that the hungry bear named death were knocking on our door today, coins in hand, what list of things terribly, terribly precious to us would we find ourselves clinging to?  What would be our sacred things, our sacred ones?  You have your list, I’m sure, just as I have mine.  So much of what makes my life meaningful are the loves in my life and knowing that not only do I have them, but that they have me.  Will death somehow take me from them, cause me to lose them, cause them to forget me?  Oliver wonders, too:

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:

What is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

There are her first thoughts–those of the things sacred to her–brotherhoods and sisterhoods of beings. She thinks of time as an idea.  She sees each life as a flower, each name of her sacred ones as music, each of their bodies as a lion of courage.  She names and knows her sacred ones, but then in those places where I think I might tend to cling, she opens her hands and her heart and allows:  eternity is another possibility.  Each of those lives is as common-and as singular-as a field daisy.  Each name that sounds like music also tends towards silence.  Each body that is a lion of courage also is precious to (returns to) the earth.  She holds her sacred ones tenderly and dares to let them go–celebrates them, and allows them to move on from her.

When I go on vacations, I like most everyone else, make sure to have a camera in hand, taking as many pictures as possible.  I think of myself as preserving the trip in pictures.  I also find myself, often from the back side of the camera, wondering if I am missing the best part of the trip–the bare, unfiltered experience of the sights and sounds themselves.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

If I have made of my life something particular, and


I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

Or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.*

Let these darkening days invite us to the sacred ones of our lives, honor them, celebrate them, hold them tenderly, not clinging, and surrender them into the mystery that is this whole existence.  Not visitors.  Not anxious.  Not frightened or sighing.  Real and particular.

Bob Patrick

When Death Comes, by Mary Oliver

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