Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Last week school started, demo began on our long overdue home renovation, and we moved into temporary housing in the form of a kind neighbor couple’s guesthouse. Thankfully, through the now endlessly mind-numbing conversations about new kitchen back splash, bathroom fixtures and carpet colors, several volumes of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver’s work on our neighbors’ book shelves have been breaths of fresh air.

This morning I stumbled upon Oliver’s poem, “Little Summer Poem Touching the Subject of Faith,” in her book of poetry, West Wind. Rather wonderfully, Oliver’s poem arrived in the context of some devotional reflections on Jesus’ comparison of the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed (Matthew 13). Why, I’ve wondered, does Jesus use the same image of a mustard seed to describe both the kingdom of heaven and the faintest glimmers of faith? What of the correspondence? Oliver’s poem may shed some light:

Every summer

            I listen and look

                        under the sun’s brass and even

                                    in the moonlight, but I can’t hear


anything, I can’t see anything —

            not the pale roots digging down, not the green stalks muscling up

                        nor the leaves

                                    deepening their damp pleats,


nor the tassels making,

            nor the shucks, nor the cobs.

                        And still,

                                    Every day,


the leafy fields

            grow taller and thicker —

                   green gowns lofting up in the night,

                            showered with silk.


And so, every summer,

            I fail as a witness, seeing nothing —

                        I am deaf too

                                    to the tick of the leaves,


the tapping of downwardness from the banyan feet —

            all of it


                                    beyond all seeable proof, or hearable hum


And, therefore, let the immeasurable come.

            Let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine.

                        Let the wind turn in the trees,

                                    And the mystery hidden in dirt


swing through the air.

            How could I look at anything in this world

                        and tremble, and grip my hands over my heart?

                                    What should I fear?


One morning

            In the leafy green ocean

                        the honeycomb of the corn’s beautiful body

                                    is sure to be there.


But why do you think Jesus uses the same metaphor of the mustard seed to describe both His kingdom and our nascent glimmers of faith?


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