While my tendency to always be thinking was once captive to me, it seems as though I now lay at the mercy of its whims as it drags me through periods of worry and valleys of doubt. I use my thoughts as a tool, fervently grinding the machinery of my brain as I attempt to work through the questions of faith and the existence of God. It is as though I am convinced that upon finding the perfect formula or a flawless proof, I will at last be able to relax in the assurance of God’s existence and truth.
However, as the year dragged on, my efforts continued but yielded little fruit. I found myself still lost in my faith and stumbling through the darkness of doubt. My fruitless efforts exhausted me; I craved liberation from the weight of my thoughts. I needed to live, to block out the constant deluge of questions that was pounding my brain and to float in the calm waters of peace. My mind was a window, clouded with the clutter of constant thinking. I wanted so desperately to wipe this window clean; to remove the specks of worry, fear, and doubt from my brain so that the truth of God’s light could finally shine into my soul, filling the dark corners of my mind with wisdom and the long untouched crevices of my soul with hope.
Unfortunately, this peace seemed a millennium away from the constant turning of my mind; that is, until I stumbled upon my sanctuary. On the campus of a seminary near WashU, I found a hill that sweeps the land, giving those at the top of the hill a bird’s eye view of life and a sun-drenched, grassy place to sit. As I rested one morning in the glory of this hill, the lines of the following poem, which I was given this summer, alighted on my memory.
Don’t think just now of the trudging forward of thought,
but of the wing-drive of unquestioning affirmation.
It’s summer, you never saw such a blue sky,
and here they are, those white birds with quick wings,
sweeping over the waves,
chattering and plunging,
their thin beaks snapping, their hard eyes
happy as little nails.
The years to come — this is a promise —
will grant you ample time
to try the difficult steps in the empire of thought
where you seek for the shining proofs you think you must have.
But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding,
than this deep affinity between your eyes and the world.
The flock thickens
over the roiling, salt brightness. Listen,
maybe such devotion, in which one holds the world
in the clasp of attention, isn’t the perfect prayer,
but it must be close, for the sorrow, whose name is doubt,
is thus subdued, and not through the weaponry of reason,
but of pure submission. Tell me, what else
could beauty be for? And now the tide
is at its very crown,
the white birds sprinkle down,
gathering up the loose silver, rising
as if weightless. It isn’t instruction, or a parable.
It isn’t for any vanity or ambition
except for the one allowed, to stay alive.
It’s only a nimble frolic
over the waves. And you find, for hours,
you cannot even remember the questions
that weigh so in your mind.
- Mary Oliver
As the lines of this poem streamed through my mind, their truth and wisdom slowly wiped clean the window of my soul, allowing God’s light to filter through. I felt the rays of the morning sun and this inner light align, and I finally began to understand the act of submission, the act of clearing the clutter and thoughts of my mind so that God may find a home in the void of my soul.