Mysteries, Yes

by Mary Oliver


Original Language English

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
"Look!" and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

-- from Evidence: Poems, by Mary Oliver

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.


It is so easy to go about our lives and our world, relegating every encounter to the realm of the familiar. Everything can feel mundane, known, uninteresting. In our minds, we name each object or person or experience, we label and categorize, and so we move on, numb, thinking we know our lives. Yet, doing so, we have missed something essential.

Though we may have known a person for a lifetime, each new encounter, each new moment, is an entirely new world. A familiar walk presents itself anew to us each day. Every square foot of ground, each new breath, the passing moment itself is a universe of marvels just waiting for us to pay attention once again. The way to drop that inured exterior is to hush the jaded mind, to simplify the purposes of the heart, and to open the eyes.

That's when we discover the mysteries once again.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.


Nice to have answers. They give us a sense of certainty, solid ground, landmarks.

But answers should be grasped loosely and occasionally allowed to slip away as we journey. Answers imply a certain vantage point. Every answer has a geometry to it. The individual stands at a point looking at some aspect of truth along a certain line of arc. Here's the thing: As we journey and grow, we ourselves change, the landscape changes, the view changes. This doesn't mean that the truth itself changes, but the angle has changed and perhaps the aspect of truth we are viewing has changed or expanded.

The old answer is not less true from the original point-of-view, but it no longer accommodates the new position and view.

This is why we should be cautious with people claiming THE answer. It implies stasis, rigidity. Such people are often stuck. Worse, their certainty is too often threatened by our movement and life.

Does this mean no answers? Of course not. But true answers, answers that hold up from many positions and angles, must necessarily be open-ended, adaptable, and inclusive. Real answers must welcome new questions. And, when they cannot adapt, they must allow themselves to fall away in favor of more complete representations of truth.

Of course, even the best "answer" is still but a description of truth, and not truth itself. When we want truth and not answers, we must go naked, free from artificial definitions, and encounter the entirety with mute astonishment.

Let me keep company always with those who say
"Look!" and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.



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Mysteries, Yes