Sister Mary Lou reflects on Celebrating Mary Oliver

One of the most touching moments during a recent celebration of Mary Oliver’s poetry did not involve the sharing of a poem. Rather, a woman went to the microphone and talked about her teenage daughter who is autistic and doesn’t have time for organized religion. “I didn’t know how to reach her,” the mother explained. “We were growing apart…we couldn’t connect and I wanted something for her that would substitute for a religious practice.” What the mother and daughter began doing is going to the lagoon area at Lake Erie on Sunday and reading Mary Oliver poems together. “The poems are enabling the two of us to talk about God in an intimate way and to build a stronger relationship. I will be forever grateful to Mary Oliver.”

The speaker was one of 30 or so women who gathered at the Women’s Writing Circle this week to share why they were grateful for the life of poet Mary Oliver who died on January 17, 2019. The organizer of the event, Valerie Luckey, OSB, gave simple instructions. Bring a Mary Oliver poem that means something to you, read it, and then share a creative response to the poem—a painting, collage, another poem, song, dance. Or just read your poem and tell why you chose it. Or just come and listen.

All of the above happened in what can only be described as prayerful celebration of laughter, applause, honest exchange, and beauty—in other words, a great liturgy.

For my reading I chose a poem from Dog Songs.

If you are holding this book

You may not agree, you may not care, but
if you are holding this book you should know
that of all the sights I love in this world—
and there are plenty—very near the top of
the list is this one: dogs without leashes.

When I finished reading all the women burst out laughing. I said, “That’s what happened to me when I first read this poem. I threw back my head and laughed. I find it so freeing and so respectful of another part of creation.” My creative response was this poem:

If you are holding this book

You may not agree, you may not care, but
if you are holding this book you should know
that of all the sights I love in this world—
and there are plenty—very near the top of
the list is this one: dogs without leashes.

And very near the top of the list is this one:
cities without jails.

And very near the top of the list is this one:
countries without walls.

And very near the top of the list is this one:
churches without dogmas.

And very near the top of the list is this one:
questions without restrictions.

And very near the top of the list is this one:
ideas without boundaries.

And very near the top of the list is this one:
Imagination without limitations.

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The Writing Studio is part of The Studio at Saint Mary’s: Space to Create, where studio space is available for artists and innovative programs that can positively impact center-city Erie. For more information, contact Holly Nowak.