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We welcome Kyle Meyaard-Schaap to The Twelve today, guest blogging while Kate Kooyman is away. Kyle is National Organizer and Spokesperson for Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. Thanks, Kyle.
I’ve always admired people who read poetry. It seems like such a mature habit. Much more impressive than my nightly Netflix addiction.
I took AP English in high school. I have a few favorite poets and select stanzas tucked away in my back pocket should the need ever arise at a dinner party to desperately burnish my literary bona fides. But I could never claim to be a true appreciator of good poetry—at least not with a straight face.
So last Christmas, I asked for books of poetry (the pressure of keeping up appearances at all those dinner parties was killing me). On the recommendation of a friend, one of the collections was volume one of Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems. And inconspicuously tucked away inside its first pages was an ode to a common wildflower that took my breath away.
Here it is in full:
in fall fields,
in rumpy bunches,
saffron and orange and pale gold,
in little towers,
soft as mash,
sneeze-bringers and seed-bearers,
full of bees sand yellow beads and perfect flowerlets
and orange butterflies.
I don’t suppose
much notice comes of it, except for honey,
and how it heartens the heart with its
I don’t suppose anything loves it, except, perhaps,
the rocky voids
filled by its dumb dazzle.
I was just passing by, when the wind flared
and the blossoms rustled,
and the glittering pandemonium
leaned on me.
I was just minding my own business
when I found myself on their straw hillsides,
citron and butter-colored,
and was happy, and why not?
Are not the difficult labors of our lives
full of dark hours?
And what has consciousness come to anyway, so far,
that is better than these light-filled bodies?
on their airy backbones
they toss in the wind,
they bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,
they rise in a stiff sweetness,
in the pure peace of giving
one’s gold away.
I’ll confess something: I’m not the best at sharing my whole self with other people. I rarely show up to most of my relationships, finding too much comfort in my hiddenness to risk vulnerability; finding too much shame in my secrets to tell the whole truth. The world is more often than not treated to the shiny, sanitized pieces of me that I am proud to shout from the rooftops and to display on my social media feeds.
I’ve been following a call to ministry now for some years, and the impulse to hide is present even here. I’ve perceived for some time now that my particular call is a little more eclectic than others, with a strong emphasis on organizing and political advocacy, plus a healthy dose of preaching and discipleship thrown in. That’s why I’m currently a full-time climate organizer for a national, faith-based nonprofit working with young Christians and also a part-time ministry associate at my local congregation, preaching and discipling students at the local university.
And yet, the draw to diminish the fullness of this call is ever present. I find myself code-switching when talking to someone about what I do. If I’m not up for a drawn out defense of my climate advocacy work, then I simply work for a local church. If I’m connecting with a colleague at a secular environmental organization, then I’m a climate activist and my pastoral role in my congregation is conspicuously left out of the conversation.
Hiding the parts of me that feel too dangerous or offensive to share is almost reflexive. I only realize that I do it after the fact and then it’s only if I am particularly self-reflective about the encounter.
Maybe I’m not alone in this—at least, I don’t think I am. After all, the primary response of the first humans to the new reality of sin was to hide; to be ashamed of their brokenness and to hide in the bushes rather than respond to God’s plaintive call, “Where are you?”
Are we all that different from that cowering pair?
Maybe not. But here’s what Mary Oliver and goldenrods have been teaching me: we all have gold to give away. Each of us is a unique constellation of passions, gifts, flaws, and callings that are a gift to the world. Our gold is not valuable by any work of our own, but because God through Christ declares it so. And it is not diminished by the imperfections that we fight so valiantly to hide away. Sometimes, it is the brokenness and imperfections of our lives that the world needs to see most.
So if you’re anything like me, you need to hear this word from Rev. Oliver today: you are a gift to the world. The world, broken and scarred, needs your gold today.
So go ahead, give it away.