to help you discover the God you already know

Words for the turning of the year [1]

Around this time of the year the newspapers offer the reader suggestions as to the best films, plays, books, music etc of the past twelve months: they will also soon be offering wisdom and advice for the new year. In that spirit I’d like to share two pieces of writing that in my experience are touching buttons for people at the moment. Maybe you already know them?  Maybe you’d like to offer alternatives that speak to you?


The first is a poem by Mary Oliver which has been around for some time, entitled ‘The Journey’.’  You can find it in ‘Wild Geese’ selected poems of Mary Oliver’.


One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice-

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

”Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognised as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do-

determined to save

the only life you could save.


Years ago people would often respond to reading the poem by saying ‘I couldn’t possibly do that, that would be very selfish!’  Interestingly, these days, people seem more likely to respond with a knowing smile. It is, of course, not being selfish to follow the poet’s advice. Rather it is an invitation to take seriously and follow your own inner voice, the voice of your soul, the voice of the divine within you. It is only by doing that that you can become real, and thus of much help to anybody else.


You could give the poem a Christmas spin and relate it to both Matthew’s and Luke’s stories of the birth of Jesus, both of which involved people setting out on journeys. In Matthew it is the wise men who leave home on a quest which some might have felt was self indulgent, while others would have advised them of the obvious risks involved. According to T S Eliot’s poem ‘The Journey of the Magi’, they returned home much changed by the experience. In Luke it is Joseph and Mary who set out on a journey, the final destination of which turned out to be other than what they expected. They too will have got home changed by the experience of the journey.

1 Comment

  1. Colin Brown

    Although I’ve come across and read this poem many times in the past, the timing of your blog Henry and your comments are just the thing for my stage of journey right now. Thank you. Very helpful.

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