Practicing Courageous Vulnerability


The other day I was reading a volume of Mary Oliver's collected poetry, and I ran across this bit of stanza from her poem "Blackwater Woods," and I jotted it down: 

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

If you have never read any Mary Oliver--you should.  This bit is particularly amazing to me.  I've been thinking about it for several weeks, as a matter of fact.  Sometimes it takes a while before I'm ready to reflect on something that speaks to me.  

So here's what I'm thinking about this poem... 

I love the way Oliver situates the life lesson that she's conveying here within the context of mortality, and the frailty that we experience as finite beings, only here on this earth for a breath it seems.  

There's a fragility inherent in her words, the image that she's lifting up here is one that feels as though it may fall apart in a heartbeat.  The three things that we must do to live are essentially grounded in this fragility.  

Oliver suggests that we ought hold tight to what is fragile and fleeting----relationships, connections, friends, lovers, family...  

There is tender beauty in living your life so heart forward that you are willing to risk your heart being broken in order to love what may very well leave you.  And to truly live--you must be willing to let it go.  

I can't help but think of the way this informs our understanding of the Incarnation--the doctrine of how God took on human form in the person of Jesus Christ.  

The Incarnation helps us comprehend how God understands us completely, intimately knows what it is like to be us.  

The Apostle Paul wrote about this in his letter to the church at Philippi: 
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
God values our fragility so much that God took it on Godself and embraced it fully.  God loves us in our finitude--reaching out to us, showing Godself in all kinds of creative and surprising ways.  

And God is willing to enter into this relationship knowing that we may very well choose not to embrace God, to trust God or even believe in God.  

This freedom we have been given is given by the One who will not coerce our love, and therefore gives us the choice to walk away and try to live life on our own terms.  

Our life is so much better spent in God's embrace, though.  God's willingness to be vulnerable and to embrace humanity for our sake and for the sake of the world is liberating in ways that are impossible to articulate completely. 

We find in God the ability to live more fully as ourselves, and to love others in the same way that we have been loved.  

May this be true for you today and every day.  May you discover new reservoirs of love and courageous vulnerability.  And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  

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