Someone passed on to me this poem by Mary Oliver, “I Happened to Be Standing.” Perhaps you know it; I didn’t. But it speaks to me these days as I watch birds and squirrels outside my study window and try to turn these odd days into a kind of extended retreat, soaking in and treasuring the miracles of nature popping up all around us. We probably all need this kind of escape these days—an escape into a beautiful reality that surrounds us.
I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition?
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.
While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm.
I don’t know why. And yet, why not?
I won’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.
But I thought of the wren’s singing, what could this be
If it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.