Monday, April 16, 2012

The Sacred in Little (Poetic) Things

Riding a bike is sacred.

"Poetry holds the knowledge that we are alive and that we know we're going to die.  The most mysterious aspect of being alive might be that — and poetry knows that."
Marie Howe  

"There is no there there."  
Gertrude Stein

I've gotten into some interesting conversations lately with friends about the "sacred".  I have always self-consciously defined sacred as "what really matters in life," measurable by death-bed wishes, or what-I-want-my-son-to-know.

My student assistant, Robyn, thinks of family bonds, love, and music as sacred things.  I agree with her.

But I also don't think that sacred has to be something BIG.  It can be the little things, the things that are mundane, everyday, but somehow special.

My friend, Darcy Falk, talked about it yesterday.  Darcy has a really special moment that she defines as sacred when she peels carrots.  She has been able to take this action, this peeling back of layers, and it reminds her of all the other times throughout her life that she has done the same movement.

She is able to stop, notice what she is doing in that precise moment, and it connects her to so many other times of carrot peeling, different meals, different kitchens... Usually she's listening to her husband play music.  So yes, it's a sacred thing.

For me, it's washing the dishes.  I love soaking my hands in the hot water, putting things right after a good meal, and putting my little kitchen into order.  It's mundane, it's boring, it's mine and I can do it, and it makes me really happy.

April is poetry month, and I also think that poetry makes things sacred.  Wait, scratch that.  I believe that poetry opens our eyes to the sacred.  Everything that we experience in this lifetime can be seen as important--as sacred.  The simpler, the better, because isn't our life made up of a string of simple things?  Why can't these moments in between the peak experiences be important to us as well?  Those extreme highs can sometimes exhaust me!

When new friends invited my son, Isaac, and me to join them for poetry night this weekend, I was excited to enter "moments of importance" with other people (and to have my son also experience that.)  One guy read a poem he wrote about hating his job.  The poor guy really hated his job.  

Isaac loved the story about The Dead Man's Hand, because it scared him- even though he's 15 and not supposed to be scared.  One woman read a poem about World War I, and while I can't remember a single line, I completely remember how she got choked up while reading it.  I will never forget her military sweater, her eyeglasses.

They were simple observations, these poems, some brilliantly worded, some not.  But still, somehow they were important to those who were gathered together.  WE were important to those who were gathered together.

In an interview, Marie Howe talks about the concept of "ordinary time" in the Catholic Church, times in which there was no "high holy season" where nothing apparently miraculous is happening--and yet miracles really are happening.  My definition of sacred is ever-evolving--but I think, like Howe, it may start to encompass the moments when I feel fully alive, times of ordinary time.  Times that I have sat still and noticed things, times that don't exhaust me but really replenish me, take nothing from me but give me everything.  That really sacred thing that is right here.

Flowers are sacred too.


  1. Noticing things! It's become a favorite past time of mine in the last few years and always requires me to slow down.

    Gardening is one of my sacred tasks. I cherish the experience of preparing the ground, selecting the plants, getting the dirt on my hands and knees, the watering and watching as things take root. It's a coin toss here in Flagstaff if things live or die but usually I am rewarded by seeing things emerge from the ground in the spring.

  2. Hi Karen, your comment reminds me of "Harold and Maude" when Maude says "I just love watching things grow, don't you?" I have to say I never thought of it before her...