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Posts Tagged ‘Mary Oliver’

Between his shoulders

I love it when I discover some new pearl of wisdom in something I am reading – some truth that really resonates with me or makes me sit up and take notice.  I keep a journal where I jot down such things – and what a feast it is when I look back after several months and read them all in one go!  As I glance now through some recent entries, I notice quotes from many different sources – novels I am reading; the writings of fascinating authors such as Frederick Buechner, Annie Dillard, Thomas Merton; occasional lines of poetry from Mary Oliver and T S Eliot; snippets about writing from ‘The Soul Tells A Story’ by Vinita Hampton Wright and ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott; and of course many, many verses of Scripture that have impacted me in some way.

One would think that after all these years, I would have found and noted every verse of the Bible that particularly touches or encourages me.  Yet somehow God never ceases to surprise me with little gems that literally seem to jump out at me from the pages of my Bible, even though I know I have read these particular sections before.

One such verse in that category comes from Deuteronomy 33, where Moses is blessing the Israelite tribes before his impending death.  In verse 12, he says the following to the tribe of Benjamin:

Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.

Now that conjures up some wonderful imagery in my mind.  How about you?  It seems, from what I could find out, that this verse might be referring to the way shepherds used to carry a favourite or perhaps injured lamb slung across their shoulders – which is certainly apt enough.  But the picture that came to my mind is of a tall, broad, brave defender using his body to shield someone a lot smaller and weaker than he is from the advancing enemy. The intended victim is clinging on tightly, arms around his (or her) rescuer’s waist, head turned to the side and pressed firmly into the spot between the rescuer’s shoulder blades.  No one can touch him (or her) while this strong, courageous defender remains in place – he acts as a human shield who will do anything to protect the one holding on so firmly to him.

And then another favourite verse of mine comes to mind, this time from Psalm 32:7:

You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.

I feel very comforted and secure in my ‘hiding place’ who is the Lord, protected and at rest ‘between his shoulders’.  I might be in the middle of a battle, but I can ‘rest secure’ as I lean against him.  After all, I know that he has my enemy’s measure, that he is much more powerful than anyone or anything that might come against me, and that because I am his ‘beloved’, he will never to grow tired of being my shield and protector, until he manages to bring me home safe at last.

May you too know that place of deep security, as you ‘rest between his shoulders’.

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Someone read me a beautiful poem recently that contains what I believe is one of the most important questions we could ever be asked.  The poem is ‘A Summer Day’ by Mary Oliver and ends this way:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Well, my life doesn’t quite fit the bill of being ‘wild and precious’, you might be tempted to say.  But just stop and think a minute.  I’m not sure exactly what Mary Oliver meant by ‘wild’ – yet isn’t it true that each morning when we wake up we face a whole raft of possibilities for the day ahead?  Whatever our role in life, each morning we can choose afresh how we act, how we approach the various situations that confront us, how we will respond to others along the way.  And if we consider God to be a vital part of our life, then the journey becomes even more interesting and full of possibilities.  That’s pretty wild, I reckon.

Recently, a woman who had nursed elderly people for many years commented on radio that one of the things in her experience people most regretted at the end of their lives was that they had not grasped the opportunities presented to them along the way or, in other words, had not taken more risks.  I don’t want to be like that.  I don’t want to get to the end of my life and feel I had not attempted the ‘wild’ things God might have called me to do.  I have gifts and abilities.  You have gifts and abilities that can be used for good to bless and encourage others.  We all do.

And yes, my life and your life are definitely ‘precious’.  Each of us is unique.  Each of us is made in God’s image, according to Genesis 1:27.  And each of us has one opportunity to be all we were created to be, to have a positive impact in this world, to make a difference.

That inspires me to listen to God’s leading each day, to invest myself more fully in what I have been given to do, to try my best to honour God with this particular moment of my ‘one wild and precious life’.

I hope you find Mary Oliver’s question equally fascinating and challenging.

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