Saturday, July 23, 2011

On Being Good...

Quite sometime ago, A. directed me to a poem. She did not remember where she had seen it (or so it seems to me now), but she remembered the line "You do not have to be good" (admittedly, a solid opening line). The internet is many things, one of which is a really powerful search tool.
Maybe this is how I found the poem. Maybe A. found it some other way. I'm not sure it matters. It was read, and remembered, and found again, in any case.


-Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes, 
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting  
over and over announcing your place 
in the family of things.


I'm reading, currently (academically, of course; my recreational reading is ever so much more exciting) about ascetics, monks and assorted other holy peoples. People who most assuredly did walk on their knees in the desert, repenting. They felt they did need to be good. And for our sake, at that (well, for others sakes, anyway; perhaps not ours). They did not let the soft animals of their bodies love what it loved.
Willpower, they say, is a finite thing in a person. When one uses it all up in doing the one thing, there is none left for doing the next. This is why diets fails so spectacularly. One can only be so good for so long, before something gives.
Perhaps I do not need to be good, or to cross the desert on my knees. Maybe I should let the world offer itself to me, and love what I love. Sounds nice, actually. But sometimes I do need to be good. Maybe not desert repenting level good, but good all the same.
Sometimes, I think I'll also love what I love, though. That sounds pleasant enough as well.