The Summer Day 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?
In this poem you can almost picture Mary Oliver sitting out in a field. I imagine her in a grassy field under the shade of a tree. You know those times when sitting in the grass you become aware of the ecosystem which exists right under your feet – the ants, the grass, the twigs, the pebbles, and the dirt? This is what I imagine Mary Oliver doing when she becomes aware of a grasshopper. With a mind that has slowed and a heart content in the moment, she notices the intricate details and life of a grasshopper.
I love how her progression of thought moves from the physicality of a grasshopper to the mortality of her own soul. As is often the case, when we slow down enough to be filled with wonder and awe, the terrain of our soul begins to come into focus and we start asking and feeling the deeper questions of life.
One day a large group of people starting following Jesus. He led them up grassy hillside and used nature, which some call the first scripture, to illustrate his point regarding the deeper questions of life. In Matthew 6:25-33 Jesus says,
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Imagine with me being with Jesus on that grassy hill. Gathered on the hill, you would see the birds swooping up out of the grass into the air – not worried about their next meal, simply following the currently of wind over the hillside. Looking around you see the vibrant colors of the lilies scattered about the hill. Bursting forth from the grass you see curling petals with long stamens shooting out the middle of the flowers – surly if God cares about these, God cares about me. And below your feet, the grass – the ordinary grass becomes a sermon on our anxiety and God’s provision.
Practicing Sabbath is taking the time to follow Jesus up the hill and consider the birds, the lilies, and the grass – consider the grasshopper in the field.
Unfortunately, we often spend so much time on the move, living in screen-land on our phones and computers, and toiling at work and at home that we miss the everyday wonder right below our feet or above our heads.
As the creation poem in the book of Genesis tells us, God worked with unspeakable detail and care to create our majestic world. And after all the work had been done, God chose to take a day to rest and enjoy what was made. No longer would God be designing the grass, but now, on the seventh day, God would watch the grass bend in the wind, and listen to the grasshoppers chirp.
Leonard Sweet, a professor I studied under for several years liked to use an analogy he called “bird-in-a-pan” vs. “bird-in-a-bush” thinking. His son had the opportunity to dissect a bird in science class. Pinned down on the table, he got to see the muscles of the bird and the bones that made up the wings – truly fascinating and eye openings. And while it was educationally rich to see the bird in the pan, it was a radically different and life-giving experience for his son to go out into nature and observe the same type of bird he had just dissected hoping around and flying from bush to bush.
I think we can often do this with our beliefs… As Christians we believe that Sabbath rest is important, however, we often engage Sabbath like a “bird-in-a-pan.” The principles sound good and we like thinking about them. At least for me, when it comes to the practice of Sabbath it’s often “bird-in-a-pan” thinking with very little “bird-in-a-bush” experience.
Why do we prefer engaging the “bird-in-a-pan” over the “bird-in-a-bush?”
Why do we often resist slowing down and enjoying Sabbath?
Among the many reasons I can think of, I believe one of the major reasons is that we are too afraid to hear the quiet whisper of our souls. Like the disciples on the hillside with Jesus, we too are filled with all kinds of fears. So instead of listening to our fears and anxieties, we fill the void with things like Netflix binges, and Facebook stalking. And while we pacify ourselves from hearing our anxieties, we also miss the voice the our Creator though creation which says, “do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’… But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Instead of resisting the voices of fear and insecurity in our souls, we need to square our shoulders and face those voices so we can learn to hear God’s voice of grace and comfort.
It is only through quieting our hearts and allowing God’s word to grow through our fears and anxieties that they will be conquered.
Paradoxically, while the Sabbath is an intentional space created to stop working, some of the most transformative soul work is completed on the Sabbath – a true gift of grace from our Creator.
So what about you?
What might it look like for you to experience the “bird-in-the-bush” instead of just the “bird-in-the-pan?”
What might be your resistance to slow down and rest?
And what might the Spirit of God be trying to whisper to you through a lone grasshopper, a small bird, or a simple blade of grass?
May we be those who live with Sabbath rest and uncover God’s abundance in the midst of our perceived scarcity,
May we be those who have the courage to face the voices in our minds,
And may we be those hear the voice of God through this wonderful, marvelous, holy, and good world.