Consider the lilies of the field,
the blue banks of camas opening
into acres of sky along the road.
Would the longing to lie down
and be washed by that beauty
abate if you knew their usefulness,
how the natives ground their bulbs
for flour, how the settlers’ hogs
uprooted them, grunting in gleeful
oblivion as the flowers fell?
And you—what of your rushed
and useful life? Imagine setting it all down—
papers, plans, appointments, everything—
leaving only a note: “Gone
to the fields to be lovely. Be back
when I’m through with blooming.”
Even now, unneeded and uneaten,
the camas lilies gaze out above the grass
from their tender blue eyes.
Even in sleep your life will shine.
Make no mistake. Of course
your work will always matter.
Yet Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.
I stumbled across Lynn Ungar’s beautiful poem in recent years, and have used her lines
“Gone to the fields to be lovely. Be back when I’m through with blooming” as my out of office reply. A statement of the need and importance of immersing myself in the beauties of nature to fill my well. The demands of priesthood are a constant outpouring, and it is an ever essential need that I find ways in daily contemplative rhythms and time out, to fill that well. You can’t pour from a cup that is empty. ‘God’s Cathedral’ is where I go to source that sustenance, be it in my own garden or the breathtaking beauty of Norway, Namibia or the Canadian Rockies or anywhere in between.
I shared this poem with Cynthia a dear life-long friend from school days, who was coming to terms with a diagnosis of stage 4 cancer cholangiocarcinoma , and the natural re-evaluation of her life in the light of that diagnosis. Cynthia was Canadian, and she and I did a huge road trip when we were both barely 18, up through Eastern Canada in her father’s car. (What trust!) She and I shared a love of nature, of travel, of words and poetry and were very much on the same wavelength. We chatted often over this last year, and shared her journey of treatments, side effects, exploration and understanding.
The poem meant alot to her, and she mentioned it to me again in her last weeks. It was printed on her funeral service leaflet. I had never seen Camas Lilies until May this year, when I rounded a corner on an evening walk around Victoria, BC. I had spent ten days in Canada’s most pristine wilderness, and was struggling with ‘concrete shock’, being back in a city environment. (Victoria is however as cities go, a small and very beautiful one, in a stunning setting) Coming out of city streets to the shoreline and the vistas of distant mountains, I came across a meadow of wild Camas Lilies (pictured above) ‘gazing out above the grass from their tender blue eyes’ and my heart soared.
‘Even in sleep your life will shine’ .. Cynthia died very peacefully surrounded by the love of her family, surrendering herself to Love eternal early on June 5th 2019.
Being on different continent, unable to attend her funeral, I wanted to remember her in a tangible way at that moment of farewell. I bought a rose – a rose called Roald Dahl– (a celebration of his centenary in 2016) Children’s author and genius imagination. Cynthia and I also shared a love of children, and so it seemed to fit the bill perfectly. I planted it in my garden and had a slate plaque made.
‘Consider the lilies.. yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these’ words from Jesus lips, found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:28) in his discourse on worry and perspectives. They appear to do nothing, but simply shine with their beauty, being what they are, where they are, blooming where they are planted. A quiet lesson to us in our ‘doing/achievement/targets’ orientated world.
Even in sleep your life will shine
Rest in Peace dear friend.
Your life mattered, and I was the richer for knowing you.