Devotions with Mary Oliver: “Don’t Hesitate”

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Don’t be afraid of joy. In hard times, I can see how someone might shun joy’s exuberant embrace. How can I be joyful when… [insert horrific or difficult or sad reality here]? Such thinking isn’t worth a fig, to use the old idiom. I don’t believe that we were made to only indulge in joy when everything arrives at some peaceful state of rest – “When the sun’s shining down on [us] and world’s all as it should be,” to quote Matt Redman. From what I’ve seen in my life and read in history, such times don’t truly exist. To refuse joy in times of trouble is to willingly starve in the midst of plenty, thereby depriving oneself of one of the core means of sustenance provided to enable us to persevere through such hardships.

I have been overwhelmed by the depth of wisdom in Oliver’s collection of poems all neatly gathered into one bound gem in Devotions. Even tonight, as I read a handful of her poems by streetlamp while waiting on the bridge to meet my daughter, I had a hard time narrowing down which poem to share with you for today’s devotion. “I Own a House,” “I Worried,” and “Tides” all vied for tonight’s post. But after reading the Madeline L’Engle post on My Pastoral Ponderings for Lent, I knew this was a companion piece.

Let me encourage you to read Pastor Laurence’s post for Lent first, and then add to that Mary Oliver’s advice to give in to joy. For “[j]oy is not made to be a crumb.”

Don’t Hesitate – Mary Oliver

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don't hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that's often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don't be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

Oliver, Mary. Devotions. Penguin Press, NY: 2017. (pg. 61)

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