Poem for a Sunday Morning

Posted on the bulletin board above my desk are three poems I intend to memorize. The first among them follows here. Do yourself a favor and read it aloud. Once, at the dinner table with the family, I did exactly that and my young daughter broke into tears. The language is that precise and that beautiful; the invitation to chase after what you love, that intoxicating.


The Song of Wandering Aengus
{William Butler Yeats}

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Fluent

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

— John O’Donohue


There’s a moment early in the film, “The Way” in which Tom Avery (Martin Sheen) is driving his son, Daniel (Emilio Estevez) to the airport. Daniel is setting off to see the world after dropping out of grad school and Tom is having none of it. Daniel suggests that his dad join him in the adventure but Tom can only offer a lecture in return:

“My life here might not seem like much to you, but it’s the life I choose.”

Daniel replies, “You don’t choose a life, dad. You live one.”

Daniel’s longing to be surprised by the unfolding of his life is perfectly and painfully contradicted by his dad’s singular vision for how that life should unfold.

Tom has forgotten what it feels like to flow like a river and Daniel is fighting hard against his own potential for the same forgetting. The life he pursues, the living he chooses, becomes the source of his father’s redemption.

None of us has wandered too far from the river. The trail back is well-marked and there is still plenty of daylight.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

The Mother of All Fears

Below the surface of every negatively adaptive behavior there is a fear driving the action.

I took a job earlier in my career that I was incredibly excited to get but about which I was deeply anxious because I didn’t feel qualified. The first couple of weeks on the job, I got my hands into many different pots, trying to be as “helpful” and to “add as much value” as possible to defend against the inevitable discovery of my fraudulence.

By not staying in my lane I started frustrating the very people who just days earlier welcomed me with open arms. Little did they know I would try to run the place! Once I was redirected to my area of influence with a sharp dose of feedback I had the chance to consider what was motivating my behavior.

Below the surface, further down than just my fear of being “found out” was a much more painful feeling of having abandoned my family and a potent fear of the repercussions that would follow. I had worked from home for many years at this point, with all of the benefits of flexible scheduling that provides, and the abrupt change to a traditional 9-to-5 office environment 10 days after the birth of our third child left me reeling.

I assumed, wrongly of course, that I had to prove to my family that my decision was the right one and the only way to do so was to make a big impact as quickly as possible. It was an understandable if unfortunate adaptation to my circumstances and one that has been instructive to my personal awareness and the manner in which many people cope with the unseen force of an unnamed fear.

In the Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf, the protagonist comes to the aid of the King of the Danes who has been under attack by a monster called Grendel. Once Beowulf slays Grendel he discovers that his work has only just begun as he now must contend with the unnamed creature known as Grendel’s mother. To do so, he goes into the lake to her underwater cave and engages her in a fierce battle which he finally though barely wins.

If I had stopped my reflection about my negative behaviors on the job at the first or “Grendel level” – the fear of being found out – I would have been left with something useful but insufficient. Not until I confronted my primary fear at the “Grendel’s mother” level could I follow the bubbles back to the surface, stand on the shoreline and imagine a new way forward.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

 

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Sunday Morning Moments
{Patricia Gale}

Gently my eyes open and I whispered
Thank you for I can see

My feet moving slowly one in front of the other
Though my body stiff from the labor of work
I replied… thank you for your mercy

My mind recoiling the tasks that require my attention
My heart seems to fill with the beauty of the day
And I praise you for what you have given me

The house is silent
No words are heard
Little feet that once sounded like an army
Now long gone and marching to independence and their own battles
I wipe a crystal tear and thank you for the love you placed within my life

In the coolness of an autumn’s morn
I sit a listen to the Sunday morning symphony
A gift from You created by your loving hands
I hear a soft gentle voice…” to everything there is a season and by My grace there is a reason”
Admiration and thankfulness fill my soul
My lips quiver with soft words, I am unworthy, but yet You love me
Thank you Father for this day


 

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Just about a year ago I gave my girls a book of poetry from which the following selection is taken. They are both wise, each in their way, and I am privileged to support them as they grow into their inherent wisdom, adding to it one layer at a time with each new milestone, each new level of maturity.

That my children have a lot to teach me is a forgone conclusion. That I will pay attention, listen and learn, is not. We are preparing for much different futures, but we are always preparing.



Feeling Wise

A lady was quoted in the newspaper.
“It’s not so hard to feel wise.
Just think of something dumb you could say,
then don’t say it.”

I like her.
I would take her gingerbread
if I knew where her house was.

Julia Child the famous chef said,
“I never feel lonely in the kitchen.
Food is very friendly.
Just looking at a potato, I like
to pat it.”

Staring down
makes you feel tall.
Staring into someone else’s eyes
makes you feel not alone.
Staring out the window during school,
you become the future,
smooth and large.

{Naomi Shihab Nye, A Maze Me: Poems for Girls}


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Poem for a Sunday Morning

I chose this poem because it reminds me of singing in my college choir. Our director always challenged us to stay energized in the rests, in the silences that occur between every phrase of music. Each of those moments was an opportunity to be present – for just a beat or maybe for many measures – and in that presence to anticipate what was coming next. It was an active participation, even in the silence. It made us better listeners and, as better listeners, even better singers.

He trained us to sing into the silence, to be active in our rest, to create anticipation – even possibility – out of nothing.


Extremes Are Easy

Two buckets were easier carried than one.
I grew up in between.
– Seamus Heaney, “Terminus”

Where one finishes,
the other begins.

Extremes are easy. Only
the middle is a puzzle. Midsummer –
the middle way,
shades of gray,
no absolutes,
only choices.

There,
in-between two notes,
in the pause,
in the silent space between two waves,
in the breath between breaths,
everything is possible.

{W. Craig Gilliam, Where Wild Things Grow}


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Invitation

The way I’d like to go on living in this world wouldn’t hurt anything, I’d just go on walking uphill and downhill, looking around, and so what if half the time I don’t know what for —

{Mary Oliver, excerpt from “1945-1985: Poem for the Anniversary” from Dream Work}


Maybe today a little more wandering, a little less doing. A little more imagining, a little less producing. A little more “just because” and a little less “have to.”

Maybe today you will stop watching your scoreboard, just for a few moments, and instead watch the way the sunlight fragments through the window or the birds search the grass for something hidden.

Maybe today you will stretch your legs, and notice how your feet and legs work together to keep you in motion. Maybe today you will remove the headphones and listen instead to the buzz of life around you.

Maybe today a little more daydreaming, the slightest space for the birth of a new thought, a reconsideration of something once settled.

Maybe today a quiet invitation to the divine to enter in and have its way with you.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Poem for a Sunday Morning

The fine people at the Apple Corporation decided to include in a recent software update a feature for tracking my screen time.

Each week I receive a notification that tells me the average amount of time I am on my phone each day and the percentage increase or decrease from the previous week.

I did not request this feature but I also haven’t gotten around to disabling it. The times it reports a decrease in my screen time give me a shot of satisfaction and I’m motivated to turn that into a trend.

This week’s poem, by Wendell Berry, underscores just how important that is, not just for an artistic or creative life, but for a fully realized human life.


HOW TO BE A POET
(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

{Wendell Berry}

[HT to Brainpickings]


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Poem for a Sunday Morning

TICKET

This is the ticket
I failed to spend.
It is still in my pocket
at the fair’s end.
It is not only
suffering or grief
or even boredom
of which we are
offered more than
enough.

{from Say Uncle, by Kay Ryan}


For as simple as it is, this poem packs a punch. It’s a punch thrown by my bigger self and it’s trying to wake me up.

How much time do I spend counting what is not, rather than what is? How many moments do I let slip by because I am distracted by nostalgia for those that have come and gone; by anticipation for those not yet arrived?

How to be present to the present and make the very most of it? How to remember to ride the ride, right now?

This moment, is it enough?


 

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

What you are doing is exploring.

Exploring
{Wendell Berry}

Always in the deep wood when you leave
Familiar ground and step off alone into a
New place there will be, along with feelings
Of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging
Of dread. It is an ancient fear of the unknown
And it is your first bond with the wilderness
You are going into.

What you are doing is exploring.


What would it mean, could it mean, to lead from a mindset of exploration?

What impression would it make on the team if their leader transmitted to them both their feelings of curiosity and excitement as well as that little nagging of dread?

What might happen if the team felt trusted enough with those darker feelings, common as they are to the human experience, while also being asked to animate their own curiosity and excitement as a way to prevent them from taking over?

What if the leader began with the assumption that healthy, professional adults are able to work with the competing demands of exploration and want to be invited into a more spacious conversation about what role they might play on the expedition?

What if the leader normalized that ancient fear of the unknown by facilitating a full and ongoing discussion about the possibilities that await on the trail, the real risks and the potential rewards?

What if the team was trusted to make the plans, to plot the course, to safely light up both their strengths and their weaknesses so that learning becomes a companion for the journey rather than an excuse to stay home?

What if the leader stepped onto the trail first, into the known-unknown, and held the light up so that others could follow?

These are the deep woods. We are all explorers. You are our leader.

How do you wish to proceed?


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.