“The Poetry of Advent:
An Advent Companion to Mary Oliver’s DEVOTIONS”

This year we will walk through the season of Advent in the good company of the SALT Project writers … and of the poet Mary Oliver. 


This week we reflect on Advent’s Fourth theme of LOVE.  “Alongside the candles of mindfulness, shalom, and delight”, we read in SALT’s ‘Poetry of Advent’,  “we light a candle of love, surrounded by shadows of fear, hatred, and contempt.” Mary Oliver joins the voice of that other Mary — pregnant with the Christ child — in offering her own version of that bold singing-in-the-dark “Magnificat”.   

In her poem, “The Chat”, Mary Oliver invites us into an unbridled singing that from every pore of our being arises in pure adoration.  Not arising from our limited perspective of our own or the world’s current situation, but from pure adoration of the Holy One who — despite appearances —  holds all things together in loving embrace.

The Chat - by Mary Oliver

I wish
   I were
     the yellow chat
         down in the thickets

who sings all night,
     into the air

and panhandles, 
      in curly phrases,

free verse too,
   with head-dipping
      and wing-wringing,
         with soft breast

rising into the air –
   meek and sleek,
         with no time out

for pillow-rest,
   everything –
         thanks – 

oh, Lord,
   what a lesson
      you send me
         as I stand

   to your rattling, swamp-loving chat
         of his simple, leafy life – 

how I would like to sing to you
   all night
    in the dark 
         just like that.


This Sunday — and the week unfolding from it — we enter the gracious space of Advent JOY.  Mary Oliver offers an alluring window into a profound source of JOY wherein love for the earth and love for the Holy One are having such a long conversation in our hearts.  May that begin to take root and flourish deep within each of us!


Another morning  and I wake with  thirst
for  the  goodness I do not  have.  I walk
out to the pond and all  the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
I was  never a  quick  scholar  but sulked
and  hunched  over  my books  past  the
hour  and  the  bell;   grant  me,  in  your
mercy,  a  little  more  time.  Love  for the
earth and love for you are having  such a 
long   conversation  in   my  heart.   Who
knows   what   will   finally   happen   or
where  I will  be  sent, yet already I have
given a great many things away expect-
ing to be told to pack nothing, except the
prayers   which  with   this   thirst,   I  am
slowly learning. 


“Poetry can help us as we wait. As Mary Oliver emphasized, the best poems help us notice and feel things we might otherwise miss, both the depths of despair and the heights of hope.  In this Advent devotional, we let scripture and Oliver’s poetry be our guides, together pointing us toward weekly practices that can help deepen and enrich our experience of the season.”

For this 2nd week of Advent, as we turn our thoughts toward PEACE, we are accompanied by the poem,


Early in the morning we crossed the ghat,
where fires were still smouldering,
and gazed, with our Western minds, into the Ganges.
A woman was standing in the river up to her waist;
She was lifting handfuls of water and spilling it 
over her body, slowly and many times,
as if until there came some moment
of inner satisfaction between her own life and the river’s.
Then she dipped a vessel she had brought with her
and carried it filled with water back across the ghat,
no doubt to refresh some shrine near where she lives,
for this is the holy city of Shiva, maker
of the world, and this is his river. 
I can’t say much more, except that it all happened
in silence and peaceful simplicity, and something that felt
like the bliss of a certainty and a life lived
in accordance with that certainty.
I must remember this, I thought, as we fly back
to America.
Pray God I remember this.

learn more about the city of Varanasi 



“The Christian year begins not with the lilies of Easter, or the poinsettias of Christmas, or the stirring winds of Pentecost,” we read in the introduction to this devotional treasure, “but rather with Advent, four weeks in the shadows of despair, conflict, sorrow, and hate. For it’s here, in the shadows, that the God of grace will arrive. Waiting, longing, and preparing for that arrival, we light candles of hope, peace, joy, and love.”

And so we take our first step into this holy season accompanied by an excerpt from Mary Oliver’s poem “On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate (Psalm 145)”

    Every morning I want to kneel down on the golden
       cloth of the sand and say
    some kind of musical thanks for
       the world that is happening again — another day —
    from the shawl of wind coming out of the 
       west to the firm green

    flesh of the melon lately sliced open and
       eaten, its chill and ample body
    flavored with mercy.  I want
       to be worthy of — what? Glory? Yes, unimaginable glory.
    O Lord of melons, of mercy, though I am
       not ready, nor worthy, I am climbing toward you.
        from “DEVOTIONS: The Selected poems of Mary Oliver