For it being my first time attending one of the free concerts at Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, it was, perhaps, a perfect evening. The rain had stopped. The weather was just cool enough to want to wrap yourself in a light sweater and still warm enough to enjoy a picnic of fresh garden veggies and finger foods.
The music ebbed and swelled, as did our conversation. And in the course of the evening, the friend I was with shared a new-to-me Mary Oliver poem called “Don’t Hesitate” that was recently republished in Oliver’s 2021 collection Devotions.
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.
Like many UUs, I have loved Mary Oliver for as long as I can remember. I had a framed copy of her poem “Wild Geese” on my wall for decades and her poem “The Summer Day” grounds me and centers me in the beauty, wonder, and brevity of this amazing experience we call life. It is not an exaggeration to say that I believe Mary Oliver to be a prophet and her poetry to be scripture.
Yet this poem was new to me. And unlike most of Oliver’s work with which I was previously familiar, there is no nature metaphor, simile or analogy here: she is laying it out directly for us. It is as if she has tried again and again to be indirect but at last she has given up and needs to say as plainly, as clearly, as concisely as possible: that even when things feel like they are at their worst, there is the potential for hope, for love, for joy.
Oh, it is so true, isn’t it? That there is bad news wherever we turn, that we are not very often wise. That we hurt each other and cause each other pain. And yet.
And yet here we are, at the beginning of another school year. The beginning of another church year with the annual Homecoming Service this Sunday! A year filled with opportunities to grow together – as Nina Brewer-Davis shared in her July 24 service. A year filled with opportunities to affirm and support each other – as Jay Cohen shared in his August 21 service.
I hope that whether you are beginning a school year or not, whether you will be coming back to church or have been attending all summer, that this will be a year filled with possibility and joy. I have faith that this is going to be a very good year at UTUUC, with something happening that will be “better than all the riches or power of the world.” So “If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it.” Because, after all, “joy is not made to be a crumb.”