Letter from the Director – April 2024

Go Deep

Iris, the Tennessee State Flower

“I don’t ask for the sights in front of me to change, only the depth of my seeing.” – Mary Oliver

We hosted a weekend poetry retreat this past weekend. It was filled with loveliness, both lovely people and lovely poems. We talked about writing and how we can interact with emotions that might fuel our words. We explored poetry as wonder, lament, anger, and joy. What became evident as we discussed each topic was this:

The writer’s work is to notice, not just physical things, but the deeper, holier weight of emotion. By noticing and examing the tender sentiments of the heart, we move closer to what it means to be human. 

This is not shallow work. You cannot write about anger without entering into the world of injustice. You cannot write about lament without opening the door to dark sorrow. (Well, that’s not really true. You can, but your words will lack authenticity and readers will recognize that.) How do we write about these things then, when the natural tendency is to avoid them? We dive in. We go deep. Only then do we begin to see the essence of the thing, it’s true nature. 

It’s the same with wonder and joy. The “good” emotions deserve to be examined deeply too. Joy, in particular, is a radical stance. It goes against the world’s mindset. It is a conflict and a tension between us and society, a daring in-your-face positivity that changes our view of life. We can’t find that view if we stop at simply being “happy.” Joy is deeper, wider, uncontained by circumstance. It stands within time, but beyond time too.

In the Mary Oliver quote, she doesn’t ask for a change of circumstance. She simply asks to see the circumstance in a more complete way. There have been plenty of times that I’ve wanted my circumstances to morph into something else. Anything else! But life rarely works like that. Instead, the opportunity is to stand in the center and really experience what’s happening. Invite yourself to the party of being human. Go deep into wonder, sorrow, anger, and joy. What happens when you make a friend out of grief, when you sit with it and hold its hand? What happens when you move all the way through anger to compassion? What happens when you boldly live joyfully in the midst of your own suffering?

What happens? I want to find out. Just as we can see a flower and appreciate it for its color and form, we can also see a flower in a deeper way. We can see the grains of pollen on the anther of the stamen and imagine seed, future growth, future beauty. It takes the will to go beyond the surface, to explore past the easy point or the comfort zone. It takes time. 

So, I wish you time. And I wish you daring. And I wish you the courage to go deep, even if you don’t want to at the moment. That will be the very moment you learn something essential about yourself and about the world.