Devotions with Mary Oliver: “Tides”

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As we come to the end of the week and go forth with boldness into that annual test of one’s fortitude – daylight savings time – it felt fitting to share Mary Oliver’s “Tides” from the A Thousand Mornings (2012) section of her collection of poems, Devotions. When I read it the other night, I immediately had flashbacks to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty.” In each poem, there’s the meditation on the nearly unspeakable beauty of creation and its overlooked constancy: days, seasons, and tides.

Here, Oliver focuses our attention on the “blue gray green lavender” of the waves. It inspires awe, like watching the film Hidden Figures with my family tonight. In the presence of something so majestic, something so much bigger than we are, our actions can seem so insignificant, so small. Yet, I do not believe Oliver seeks to glorify nature and demean humanity. Once again, it’s an invitation to see more clearly, to join her “on almost any morning / walking along the shore.” Come! Let me show you what I’ve found! No wonder we sing “How Great Thou Art!”

So, as this week comes to an end, as we draw closer to the vernal equinox, as we lose that precious hour of sleep, let us remember the often ignored testimony we can find in creation’s constancy, and remember the One who called it all forth – every natural law, every mathematical equation, every sub-atomic particle – with the power of His word and the life of His breath.

Tides – Mary Oliver

Every day the sea
    blue gray green lavender
pulls away leaving the harbor's
dark-cobbled undercoat

slick and rutted and worm-riddled, the gulls
walk there among old whalebones, the white
     spines of fish blink from the strandy stew
as the hours tick over; and then

far out the faint, sheer
     line turns, rustling over the slack,
the outer bars, over the green-furled flats, over
the clam beds, slippery logs,

barnacle-studded stones, dragging
the shining sheets forward, deepening,
     pushing, wreathing together
wave and seaweed, their piled curvatures

spilling over themselves, lapping
     blue gray green lavender, never
resting, not ever but fashioning shore,
continent, everything.

And here you may find me
on almost any morning
walking along the shore so
     light-footed so casual.

Oliver, Mary. Devotions. Penguin Press, NY: 2017. (pg. 52)

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