“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?”
I heard these words from Mary Oliver’s Pulitzer Prize-winning poem, “The Summer Day,” on a podcast the other day. I was driving to a meeting, and it was one of those perfect fall days: sunny, not too hot and not too cool. The leaves were changing, and some were just beginning to drift gently to the ground as a reminder of the coming winter. The beauty of the day and the beauty of the poem stirred me to remember the precious nature of life. Earlier that morning my brother and I had spoken of the failing health of my parents, and I had been reminded that all life on this earth comes to an end. Which caused me to ask the question: “What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” or perhaps to ask the question from my children’s point of view when the time comes. What would they say that I had done with my life? Did I demonstrate that I held life as precious? And exciting? And yes, a little wild?
The book of Hebrew implores us to “run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
That’s who I want to besomeone who keeps running the race, remembering all of the runners who have gone before and whose legacies allow me to embrace my faith and live a precious and wild life. I like to imagine the great cloud of witnesses that are cheering me on from their vantage point of life beyond the veil. I don’t know how, but I really do believe that in some way our fathers and mothers, our grandfathers and grandmothers and all who have gone before surround us every day and keep us and bear witness to us beyond this life. All of the love we have known from them continues to build us up and encourage us to embrace this wild and precious thing called life. Like Mary Oliver, I cannot quite explain prayer, but I know it works. I also cannot quite explain this ‘cloud of witnesses,’ but I think it hinges on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13: “Love never ends.” I take comfort in knowing that as I try to live a life that honors God, I have a cheering section in all those who have loved me in my one wild and precious life.