I found it a few days ago, tucked into a book as an impromptu marker. I’d used one of my favorite notecards and I remember writing the letter in February, sitting in the little white chair in my bedroom.
I’d meant to send it, like any letter, but somehow it’s been hidden for the past five months.
I toyed with sending it now, but my curiosity got the better of me. I tore it open, read the words I’d meant for a friend. A time capsule, this letter that was never meant for my June-self, contained not only comfort, but truth.
I had no idea the difficult conversations I’d be having over the next few weeks, nor the “change” (really, changes) I felt coming. All I knew was what I read, what I felt, and how beautifully scripture pairs with Mary Oliver in a handwritten letter.
“For I am the Lord your God,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar —
The Lord of hosts is his name.
I have put my words in your mouth,
and hidden you in the shadow of my hand.”
This was part of my Lenten devotional — good ol’ Henri Nouwen! — and it struck me for a few reasons. The biggest one, though, is that God’s words fill our mouths. God fills our mouths with his words. There is so much power in that but the number of times I do not feel God’s words coming out of my mouth would seem to disprove this fact. So in those moments when we are most afraid, most vulnerable, most ready to throw our hands up and despair, that is when the power of God’s Word (God’s words) can lift us out of ourselves.
But hand-in-hand with this power is God’s protection. I think it was this combination of truths that brought this verse so deeply into my heart. Because as little as I feel God’s strength and power within me, I would say I feel his protection even less. Sometimes I feel I march through the gates of whatever “righteous” battle I’m waging at the time, but despite God’s power, I am left unprotected, easily hurt, and most often very confused.
I think perhaps there is a little bit of your New York in that: full of strength in the beginning, a sense of extreme vulnerability, and a feeling of no protection afterwards.
I feel on the cusp of some “great change,” and I don’t necessarily mean factual, physical, geographical. I think this Lenten season holds a mystery for my discovery, and when I woke up and read my devotional, writing to you became the first step in that pursuit of quiet, of rest, of opening up to hear God speak.
by Mary Oliver
Under the orange
sticks of the sun
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again
and fasten themselves to the high branches —
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands
of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim along the soft trails
for hours, your imagination
And if your spirit
carries within it
that is heavier than lead —
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging —
there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted –
each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
wether or not
you have ever dared to pray.