Recently I was talking with a friend about Mary Oliver’s latest book of poetry, Felicity. I think this might be my favorite volume of her poetry and, upon receiving it, instantly devoured it, hungrily taking in her rich and evocative images and words. My friend, who has only recently started reading it said, “I am slow reading it, so I don’t become an Oliver glutton.”
Her words got me to thinking about our culture of instant gratification; in an era where we can instantly download the latest book or movie we hear about onto our laptops, or tablets, or phones, taking things slow is almost unheard of. It takes patience and a certain amount of intestinal fortitude to let something unfold slowly—particularly if it’s something as wonderful as a new book of poetry. There is a frisson of anticipation I get when something good seems to be crackling in the air, as electric as lightning that strikes close enough to thrillingly illuminate without danger of causing harm.
It’s akin to the “quickening” that happens about midway through pregnancy. This is the moment when the mother first feels the stirrings of life inside her. For me, it happened at about the five month mark. I was worried because I thought it should have happened sooner, and I wondered if I, in my lack of knowledge had experienced it and didn’t realize it. Then it happened one night, just as I was drifting off to sleep: a fluttering, as of butterflies--or butterfly kisses-- that elicited an immediate, visceral reaction of exultant joy! There was life in me! There was something new being created within me-though as yet unseen to the world, and felt only by me! And, as excited and impatient as I was for this new life to be revealed, I could only wait, unable to force the process to go faster. I had to “slow read.” I had felt life stirring but it would be months before Sam would be born in his own time. And those months, too, held rich experiences that I’m glad I didn’t miss.
As I reflect on that sense of “quickening” I realized I have experienced that exact same sensation at other seminal moments of my life. I’ve felt that same butterfly sensation in the moment when I realized I was falling in love with someone, I experienced it when I had the epiphany of my sexual orientation and my call to ministry. These, too, are moments of gestation when I suddenly felt the existence of new life and all the possibilities on the horizon—as yet unseen by others. And these, too, required slow reading. These, too, were rich experiences not to be rushed through, but to be savored; to be in the charged atmosphere of change, without hiding in fear of being struck or trying to control where and when the lightning would, indeed, land; to succumb to the delicious, sometimes agonizing unfolding of possibilities, trusting the outcome would be what it was supposed to be.
Or, as Mary Oliver instructs us in her first poem in Felicity:
Things take the time they take. Don’t
How many roads did St. Augustine follow
Before he became St. Augustine.
So, I will try to remember to slow read important parts of my life, experience the quickening with all its excitement and let it be, all the while being open to those times when life and circumstances shout “take risks! Dive in! Be headstrong!” These, Mary also advocates in her new book:
I Did Think, Let’s Go About This Slowly
I did think, let’s go about this slowly.
This is important. This should take
Some really deep thought. We should
Small thoughtful steps.
But, bless us, we didn’t.