Morning Meditation by Terry Marotta
Harvard University's Appleton Chapel
Spring 2004

"Listen, I will tell you a mystery," begins a Biblical passage familiar to most of us, if only from Handel’s Messiah. "The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible" it goes on – and that’s a pretty good mystery all right.

But here’s an even better one: It’s May 1st.

It’s May 1st and we made it.

Outside, the little finger-bones of the apple tree are so fluffed out with blossom they look like newly exploded kernels of popcorn. Winter has vanished and the grey old earth has once again softened its heart and voted for life; has cracked clean open and begun …speaking in tulips!

The sight of it makes us almost giddy, and it has caused me to hunt down a few bits of verse dear to my heart, one about this season itself, one about the uneasiness we feel when we allow ourselves to ponder the precariousness doomed nature of life on this earth, and one about what happens… well, about what happens when we choose hope anyway. And I can’t think of a nicer thing to do for you in the next four minutes than to send you off into your day with some of the music from their verses jingling in your ears:

The first is Robert Frost’s "A Prayer in Spring" and it goes like this:

Oh give us pleasure in the flowers today
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid-air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
To which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill."

I love the music in Frosts’ verse; the way it carries you along and lets you think this is easy, this is baby stuff – until you get to that last couplet or two and realize he has led you deep into a not-always-so-sunny forest of complex thought.

So that is little bouquet that I offer you today: the invitation to stay in this glorious present and feel grateful.

Another, almost painfully honest message comes clothed in the words of our great modern-day poet Mary Oliver who I sometimes feel might have been reading my diary when she wrote them; might have been reading the thoughts of any of us who, on seeing life’s pain, feels it is for us to leap from our chairs and try assuaging it. Listen:

There’s a kind of white moth, I don’t know
what kind, that glimmers, it does,
in the daylight,
in mid-May
in the forest, just
as the pink moccasin flowers
are rising.

If you notice anything,
It leads you to notice
and more.

And anyway
I was so full of energy.
I was always running around, looking
at this and that.

If I stopped,
the pain
was unbearable,

If I stopped and thought, maybe
the world
can’t be saved,
the pain
was unbearable.

Finally, I had noticed enough.
All around me in the forest
the white moths floated.
How long do they live, fluttering
in and out of the shadows?

You aren’t much, I said
one day to my reflection
in a green pond,
and grinned.

The wings of the moths catch the sunlight
and burn so brightly,

At night, sometimes,
they slip between the pink lobes
of the moccasin flowers and lie there until dawn,
in those dark halls of honey.

Beautiful, no? That motionless quality at the end – like Frost’s darting bird, "who off a blossom in the air stands still." Mary Oliver’s evoking the image of these moths resting at last within those pink walls gives us a feeling of such permanence; of an almost eternal stillness, as if God, always with us, has suddenly stepped through that pane of glass that seals him off from us and taken us for a while away from Earth’s time and into Heavens’ time, where death, and change, and loss are strangers.

And the last bit of verse begins with a clump of moss – I tell you that since you are unable to read back over the words and construe it for yourselves. It’s called "Green Feathers" and Reg Saner wrote it.

Five minutes till dawn
and a moist breath of pine resin comes to me
as from across a lake. It smells of wet lumber,
naked and fragrant.
In the early air
We keep trying to catch sight
of something lost up ahead,
A moment when the light seems to have seen us
Exactly as we wish we were.
Like a heap of green feathers
poised on the rim of a cliff?
Like a sure thing that hasn’t quite happened?
Like a marvelous idea that won’t work?
Routinely amazing -
How moist tufts, half mud, keep supposing
Almost nothing is hopeless.
How the bluest potato
Grew eyes on faith the light would be there.
And it was.

"It was." This morning as I typed these verses and looked out my window at the opal-tinted dawn, I thought about those blue potatoes, and about Faith in Things Unseen. I thought about Mary Oliver and her moths: How long do they live, fluttering in and out of the shadows?

How long do we live?

Long enough, I guess: Long enough to look around some; long enough to practice hopeful living, and to model it for others. Long enough, most of all to thank the One who set this all in motion – for mud, and moths and moss, and the eyes to see them with and these long vernal days in which to ponder the mystery of how dread death itself yields to new life every time.

I’ll read that last part again:

Routinely amazing -
How moist tufts, half mud, keep supposing
Almost nothing is hopeless.
How the bluest potato
Grew eyes on faith the light would be there.
And it was.

Let us go forth now, and be amazed. Amen.

The Reverend Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church, The Reverend Chaplain Mark D.W. Edington, and Terry Marotta after the service in Memorial Church, Harvard University.

©Copyright 2002-2012 Terry Marotta, All Rights Reserved.