Wednesday, May 09, 2012
"Eagle Poem" by Joy Harjo
I don't think she's kidding, really, but the raw-boned assertion that begins Joy Harjo's "Eagle Poem" is assertive enough, even arrogant enough to make me think that she's partially pulling our leg; the first few lines are a little bit like a cheap book on prayer: "Ten Easy Steps to Make You Right with God." That sort of thing. Listen.
To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
As if that's a piece of cake. Praying is something you do with all of you--sounds Reformed, almost. But it's not easy, this opening of the whole self--or so it seems to me.
But now listen because Ms. Harjo knows that "whole self" business will never, ever be enough.
And know there is more
That you can't see, can't hear
Can't know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren't always sound but other
Circles of motion.
See? To open your whole self to God is always to know there is more. Strikes me as right. Harjo is Native, and this poem is this morning's offering on the Writers Almanac. I know my mother wouldn't like it--after all, it doesn't mention Jesus--but somehow it feels right for me this morning.
And here's another thing. Harjo tries to tell us how to pray, then says it demands more than she herself says, and then, finally sort of gives up and offers the real goods in the things of this world, the natural world, in the circling of an eagle far above her.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
Even though I'll never be Native and I don't know if I want to buy the sacred character of any creature, even something as majestic as a bald eagle, I can't help but believe Ms. Harjo: if we'd all pay more attention to God's world--and more attention to his eagles--we'd fare much better. Just to watch him; just to watch "eagle," she says, "swept our hearts clean." It's not a notion of justification found in the epistles of the apostle Paul, but then N.T. Wright claims we haven't been reading him right either for a long time. Let's put it this way, I'm a count myself stronger when I tend to eagles.
But there's more theology here. Listen.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
I'm not altogether sure how Ms. Harjo pulls all of that from the regal flight of eagles, but I do think she too has been reading Mother Teresa: "Don't look for big things, just do the small things with great love."
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon, within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
We pray that it will be done
That final wish is not a how to; it's pure unadorned supplication. It's hope for help from God.
Somehow, this morning, for me at least, the whole thing feels like a blessing.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 7:22 AM