When the grief, sadness, and anger about where we are today on this earth becomes overwhelming, I turn to poetry and prayer to remind me of what was, and what could be. To remind me how we can be - in community - together with love, justice, and compassion.
What are you drawing strength from? Do you have a favorite poem or song? What prayers are you turning to when the burdens of this out of balance world seem too large to bear? Where do you find inspiration?
We would love to hear from you. Please share your favorites with us!
Here are a few of my current go-tos.
Mary Oliver, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, writes of the unity among all living things. The despair she talks about in her poem “Wild Geese” is how I feel when climate disaster hits, and when the future looks bleak and desperate. But then, the world “calls you like wild geese,” reminding us of our oneness and of a ‘good life connected to each other and the earth.’
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over, announcing your place
in the family of things.
In his recent book of poems Losing Miami, Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué longs for a city he is losing, and maybe has already lost. He says: ‘What are we losing if we lose Miami, a seemingly impossible city formed out of Caribbean migration and the transformation of language? This book asks how we cope with loss at such a grand scale, all while the world continues to rapidly change.’
Here is part of a poem from Losing Miami.
start with sinking: I was raised in a city
that could be swallowed
by the sea within
the next century start there I rest in the sake
like drinking from the well my spirit talks
sobber-mouthed to you
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner is a writer, performance artist, community organizer, and journalist of Marshall Islander ancestry. She explores her culture’s rich storytelling and works with organizers across 15 Pacific Island nations to ‘highlight the vulnerabilities of our island countries to climate change while showcasing our strength and resilience as a people.’
Here, she recites her poem “Utilomar”:
The last part of the poem describes those
blind and joyful
willing ourselves wings
who dared to dream of a world where both forests and islands
who believe that this world
is worth fighting for
In her piece “the firemen”, the late Lucille Clifton, beloved writer, teacher and National Book Award winner, reminds us that if we are to forge a new path rooted in love, justice, and compassion, we must first reckon with the truth.
in a blaze of courage
like jacobs’ ladder
into the mouth of
reaching through hell
in order to find
or whatever the river jordan
in their heroic house.
I am listening to the album An Angel Fell, the latest release from Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids. In the song “Message to my People,” Ackamoor warns of ecological oblivion in a musical sermon, lament, and battle cry. He also speaks about how our collective redemption and healing are within our reach.
She writes that ‘perhaps the world ends here’ but perhaps it is there, at kitchen tables everywhere, that it begins anew.
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
I look forward to reading the poems and prayers that you find solace in, and the songs that renew your spirit. Please share them here.
In the words of Wen Stephenson, “What We’re Fighting For Now is Each Other.”
With love, justice and compassion,
Irene Woodard Senior Teacher, Shambhala Vice-Chair, GreenFaith Board of Directors