I Happened To Be Standing | Mary Oliver

I haven’t been able to get Mary Oliver’s poem about prayer out of my mind. My comments follow.

I Happened To Be Standing

I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why. And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

A Thousand Mornings, by Mary Oliver, pp 3-4
First published in the USA by Penguin Press, 2012
© 2012 by NW Orchard LLC

Dear Mary,

I happened to be sitting yesterday in the small waiting room of a physician’s office I didn’t want to visit. Well…I didn’t have an appointment with the doctor himself, but with one of his very talented assistants, both women of course. But see, I’m already off track.

While I sat for what turned into a longer than expected wait, I pulled out your small and wonderful book of poems, A Thousand Mornings.

I had at least a thousand prayers in me as I waited. Most were in the petition mode, given the nature of this first visit to a specialist I never thought I would meet. Now look at that…I’m off track yet again.

I didn’t read your poem once. I read it many times. It exposed my angst, fear, and resistance in that moment to turning my attention outward and upward, with or without a song.

It  was good I had to wait longer than I liked. I needed every second to find my way back to that small wren singing its little heart out—by way of your beautiful poem.

Gratefully,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 September 2021
Photo of Carolina Wren found at unsplash.com