Most likely, you already know this poem, an anthem to belonging by beloved poet Mary Oliver. Though my unstated mission with these weekly posts is to share lesser-known poems, I’m making an exception with this one. You can certainly find this piece all over the internet, and in the general ether. Nevertheless, I offer it here because it was recently offered to me unexpectedly, as an answer to a question I was only half-consciously asking.
Thanks, Laura, for giving me a frame for the Lenten practice that seems to be calling me. Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves, Oliver writes.
Laura said, Why not celebrate your body and the joy of being alive, rather than punishing yourself for being human? Why not, indeed.
To me, this is the guiding passage I had been looking for, in seeking a discipline for this season of self-examination and reflection. It’s a gentle invitation to “give up” the habit of judgment– beginning with self-judgment.
How challenging will it be to let go of judging in the coming journey through forty days? Any of the spiritual masters would likely respond with laughter. Impossible, impossible.
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.