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Wild and Precious Life

I’m on vacation at the moment, visiting my sister and her family. Yesterday, I spent the day with my 7 year-old niece, Sally, and her 1st grade class on their field trip to the beach.The class had been preparing for the visit by learning all about the aquatic creatures that could be found along the shore. Indeed, the kids had a long list of flora and fauna they were supposed to be able to identify: jellyfish, sea stars (known in my day as starfish), sea cucumbers, eels, crabs and clams, sea anemones, sea lettuce and kelp, limpets, and barnacled-crusted rocks. When we arrived, then, the naturalist on duty instructed all of us on how to successfully navigate the beach, giving particular emphasis on how to interact with the environment as we were searching. The rules struck me as good rules for our Christian life too:

Be careful where you walk.

Don’t poke at any living creature you find, but approach it gently.

Pay attention.

Now, rules are one thing, but the spirit with which one carries them out seem equally instructive. Fully briefed, the kids were put in teams, given a magnifying glass and a sheet of animals and plants to find–and set loose to go and find them. Wild enthusiasm followed. Now as a childless spinster college professor, I readily admit this really isn’t my world, but witnessing the exuberance of it all was simply delightful. I mean, what joy in finding a barnacle! The wonder of an entire field of starfish! The amazement of yet another crab! I was rather surprised that it all never seemed to grow old: for the whole morning, the kids excitedly raced from one tidal pool to the next, from the shore to the beach–and after lunch, more of the same. Their capacity for completely engaging creation–something we Reformed folks love to talk about, but don’t always live into — was inspiring.

It made me think of Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day,” and its call to worship while we can, to be fully present to the creation, to live what I saw in my niece and her classmates: their “one wild and precious life.” I hope you’re finding moments this summer to do the same.

 The Summer Day (click here to hear Mary Oliver read the poem)

 by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. 
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

 from Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Beacon Press, Boston, MA 1992 

I took the copy of this poem from








Jennifer L. Holberg

I am professor and chair of the Calvin University English department, where I have taught a range of courses in literature and composition since 1998. An Army brat, I have come to love my adopted hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m also the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture. My book, Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith, was published in July 2023 by Intervarsity Press.

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