Devoted to Love
If you have been reading the Daily Devo for a while, you have probably picked up on the fact that Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets.
She passed away in 2019 after a long and productive career as a poet and a professor of Literature. She had a beautiful way of seeing the glory beneath what was often considered mundane.
Her poems are steeped in spirituality, struggles with faith, and questions about God, and she often wrestles with all three in a single stanza.
Oliver declared that she sought to learn the art of "seeing through the heavenly visibles to the heavenly Invisibles."
I love the way she put that idea. In Oliver's world, all of Creation seems to be a sacrament--a sign and symbol of the sacred and Divine.
One literary critic who wrote about Oliver after her death posited it like this:
As Oliver herself would put it, we should learn to look with reverence before each made thing for what it is: a reflection of some particular facet of the Maker, even if it is not the facet we desire.
The other day, I was reading through Oliver's collection Devotion, and I came across this stanza that I felt not only encapsulated Oliver's life and work but also served as a lesson for me and, hopefully, to you.
If the heart has devoted itself to love, there is
not a single inch of emptiness. Gladness gleams
all the way to the grace.
That line spoke to me deeply. It spoke to the idea that when we are devoted to love, no matter what we are doing or our vocation, our true calling is being fulfilled, and we find that our longing for purpose and meaning are met.
Far too many of us find ourselves dissatisfied with our lives, feeling emptiness in our work, longing for something more to fulfill us.
But Oliver states here that when we approach every day of our lives devoted to love, we find those feelings of "not enough" are illusory and self-defeating.
This doesn't mean that we ought to toil away at the same things and should be ashamed of having longings for more. Longing for more is different than feeling "not enough."
I should clarify that when Oliver speaks of love here, she doesn't limit it to romantic love; she doesn't narrow it to a particular definition. She keeps it broad on purpose.
You might say that the love she's speaking of here is the kind of love experienced best with a connection to God and others. It's an openness to the Universe, a willingness to be guided and transformed by love.
Being open to this love might mean that you will know in your heart that whatever you are doing, wherever you happen to be, might need to be left behind for you to grow in love and continue living into the best version of yourself.
This lack of emptiness allows us to move toward grace, knowing that wherever we go next may or may not be where we stay. Everything and everyone in our lives is part of our journey toward grace. Nothing and no one is wasted.
So, if you are feeling unfulfilled in your life or work, ask yourself, "Is my heart devoted to love?" Perhaps what is needed for you to be filled again with the joy of living is to simply put love at the center of everything you do.
May these words bring you comfort and challenge. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.