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Poet Mary Oliver speaks at the 2010 Women’s Conference in California.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

The concluding question of Mary Oliver’s short poem, “The Summer Day,” prompts another response. Viewing my life as one wild and precious deepens with the lessening of the denial of my terminal illness: one, in the sense of being unique; wild, in the sense of dreams for fresh learning; and precious, in the sense of God’s unconditional love for me.

Many significant teachers, past and present, have helped me to this self-knowledge, in union with their own participation in the Sacred. This new learning engages this summer day and sets it aglow, unlike any other day that I’ll ever have. Even the poem’s title, “The Summer Day” emphasizes the primacy of the present moment. Note Oliver’s use of the adjective, “The,” in place of “a”—It’s not just any old day. Each day bears its own fruit, with its deepening commitment. Despite still much to learn, I no longer dwell upon the length of days allotted me.

So, the challenge to the able-bodied and the chronically ill prickles under the skin: No day is to be wasted for the build-up of the Kingdom of God. Our world depends upon it.

Even in the face of daily shootings and consequent mayhem, Mary Oliver offers spirit-support through her poems, “The Summer Day,” being among them.

This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

So proclaims the Psalmist in verse, 118:24

Of special importance is the day, the last one in January and time to change the wall calendar in my kitchen.

This year, the print of Van Gogh’s 1890 Houses at Auvers graces February and mirrors the world of Auvers, northwest of Paris, with its thatched and tiled roofs and summer gardens. Broad strokes of pigment suggest his elusive emotional stability.

But obsessed to co-create with his Creator, his tormented psyche pushed him beyond exhaustion, beyond the minutes in any hour, and toward eventual suicide in July, two months later.

Perhaps an extreme use of time, but one from which Van Gogh’s six hundred or more oil paintings emerged and which still inspire viewers around the world. I have to think he glimpsed the whirlwind of colors while in his mystic fury, simultaneously filled with bliss.

So, what are we doing with this new day, no matter how quickly the seconds collapse into mill-seconds like mixing cups of flour into the liquid ingredients?

Only when very young and in the convent did I learn the significance of the Psalmist’s wisdom to rejoice in each day, a gift. And now, even more…

Classics in whatever genre—words, notes, pigment, marble, metal—require the artist to dig for inspiration into his/her psyche, realm of the Sacred. Facilitating the process is a servant heart, a willingness to change direction, and a letting go of the work—it never being finished. Indeed, the artist is co-creating with the Creator of the universe and learning a new way of being-inside-and-outside of the world.  Fortunately for us, there have always been such individuals who embraced this sacrifice of arduous becoming.

Aaron Copland is one of these artists whose music invariably opens me to the Beautiful where interludes of stillness speak. Appalachian Spring (1944), commissioned for the dancer Martha Graham and company and interwoven between the 1848 tune, Shaker Gifts, evokes such gentle hushes. Its war-weary audiences flocked to performances, their psyches uplifted by this new vision-in-sound that was awarded the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Music. 

War-weary myself this afternoon, I turned away from the news and listened to Appalachian Spring, scored for a chamber orchestra of thirteen instruments; its barely audible opening notes excised my scrambled psyche of turmoil and pried open my imagination. Immediately, I was in another world, deeply soothed, until twenty-five minutes later, again muted notes brought closure to the piece, and with it, an aching within me.

But the memory remains…

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