Using the poem Sunrise by Mary Oliver, I explore my thoughts around the beauty, hope, and sense of constancy offered by sunrises. I consider my own spirituality in the indescribable joy I get from a sunrise and how it is a phenomenon that does not discriminate. I tie in ideas from one of my favourite books, Oscar et la Dame Rose by Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt, and other sources to look at the almost divine nature of both the sun rising and experiencing it do so. Lastly, I end with a poem of my own.

I have been reading a lot of Mary Oliver recently, courtesy of my girlfriend, and her words have been healing. They seem as welcoming and reassuring as the hands which lent me the book in which I find myself completely and utterly lost in wonder. I amble through verses of Oliver’s lively fascination with the same magic we all may find in this world, in its simplest moments. There is this simultaneously grounded yet unreal quality to Oliver’s truths, as the divine seems to occupy the most mundane moments of what it means to be human, those panoramic visions of a god we seem to find in the simplest of moments: the golden rays of His majesty projected across the sandstone brickwork of our simple craft, our world aglow and afire by the warmth of Her light. We find magic, we find purpose and joy in the simplest of universal truths: that the sun rises, that it warms us, that its light holds us in precious and still moments of joy and company. That no matter how bleak and hopeless and dark each night may seem, the sun will never stop trying, she will always be there to greet us in the morning. In the poem Sunrise, Oliver writes [1]:

this morning,
climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar
fabric of dawn, I thought

of China,
of India
and Europe, and I thought
how the sun

for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises

And, for me, this goes beyond the notion of simply existing under the same sun. It is more than this, it has to be as we, well, we are more than this. We are more than occupants of a planet, we are more than neighbours, we are more than one people or peoples, and there is so much more to it all than we simply may all know what it is to feel the sun rise. There is this understanding of a joy that does not discriminate, of a god, whoever He, or She, or They may be, that transcends the artificial realities we make for ourselves. If we went back and did it all again with new maps and new countries, the sun would still rise just the same each day, She has been a constant for each and every one of us, for the wealthy, for the poor, for the old, the young, the abled, disabled, black, and white, She still rises. She always will. It is almost as if what it means to be human, deep deep down, far far in, knows no geography, no race, no status, nothing we made ourselves, it simply knows being, as we wake to the heartbeat of a universe that greets us each day. If there is to be a god, they do not know our borders, I doubt they even understand them, despite how we may employ them to maintain our gods. Sunrise continues:

under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?

What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it

whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter

Yet, it is more than simply an indiscriminate sunrise. It is more than this borderless pulse of space and time which decentres us in its own gravity of grace each day. It is more than just the light and heat which wakens us. There is a universal magic to it all, a gentleness known for all of us. The qualia of a sunrise I suppose, in that what I may know and understand as the subjective experience of this formation of rising heat and light is somehow different from and never wholly explainable to anybody else, because they can never experience what a sunrise is like for me. Yet, it is more, as there are these qualia known and unknown to myself, as each sunrise moves me in a different way. However, until recently, more often than not I would miss it. I think many of us often miss these constants because they are so present and we are, well, we are not. I suppose there is an irony to the captivating worlds of distraction we have to hand which make us miss the simplest of beauties which occur every day. And yet if we stop. If we breathe. For just a moment, that “name” Oliver is searching for, it is there.

I have recently been so gently reminded of the softness of a sunrise and the stillness and happiness one can find in a single seemingly insignificant moment of everyday life whilst rereading Oscar et la Dame Rose by Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt, as I do every year in the run up to Christmas. It is probably the only book I will ever recommend that one needs to read twice: the first time to grieve and the second to understand. The first time I read it, I knew what I was getting myself in for and I still found it terribly depressing nonetheless, it is about a young boy coming to terms with the fact he is dying from cancer after all; however, the second time I read it, and every time since, it has been one of the most hopeful and beautiful books I have ever known. The young boy, Oscar, starts to treat each day as if it were worth ten years so he may live what he sees as a complete life and the book is structured as letters to God on each of these days. Oscar does not believe in God to begin with, however, towards the end of the book there is one particular sunrise where Oscar wakes to that “name” that Mary Oliver is searching for in her poem:

And there it was, I could sense that you had come. It was the morning. I was alone on the Earth. It was too early for the birds, even they were still asleep, as was the night nurse, Madame Ducru, who was having a wee nap, but you, you were busy composing dawn. Now, you did have some trouble, but you insisted upon the sunrise. The sky began to pale. You blew whites and greys and blues across the sky to fend off the night; you brought the world back to life. You didn’t stop. It was in that moment that I understood the difference between you and us: you are the untirable guy! The one who never gets weary. Always busy working. Like just like that, here is the day! And there is the night! And the spring! And winter! And Peggy-Blue! And me, Oscar! And Mamie-Rose! You must be so incredibly healthy to be always working so hard!

In that moment, I understood that you were there. That you were telling me your secret: to look at each day on Earth as if it were the first time you were experiencing it all.

So, I followed your advice, and I am putting it into practice. The first time. I contemplated the light, the colours, the trees, the birds, the animals. I felt the air pass through my nose, and I breathed it in. I listened to the voices in the corridor which rose like arches in a cathedral. I found myself living. I got chills from the pure joy of it all. The happiness of existence.[2][N.B. this is my own translation from the original French]

I suppose it is more than just knowing that the birds sing and the sun rises, it is knowing that they will do so again. That the sun doesn’t tire on us, She never gives up on us. I am reminded here of that poem attributed to Hafez, but really a misrepresentation by Daniel Ladinsky, The Sun Never Says [3], which is beautiful despite its inauthentic and muddled origins:

All this time
The sun never says to the earth,

“You owe

What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the

It is knowing the Sun as this constant, that She will never not keep trying. That She will never not be so beautiful. That one cannot wake to the warmth and the light of Her glow and, upon looking at how She brings the world back to life, upon really being present with Her, not be pulled by Her gravity and motion in some compelling comfort and stillness which we will simply never have the words to describe.  That She will never not be that “name”, that happiness, that unbounded stillness of godly magic we experience in the simultaneously simplest and most complex universal moments. It is more than just some international god, in the way Mary Oliver reminds us that the Sun will still rise for us no matter where or who we are. It is more than just some outwardly experience, as Oscar reminds us in his mindfulness as he breathes in the stillness of the morning air. It is more than this constant, as Ladinsky reminds us in the untiring love She brings each day. It is each and every one of us in that moment too. As She greets us, so too do we greet Her back. We embody that stillness, and the knowing hope She will rise again. In that moment, in the rising heat and light we know the magic of a sunrise. We come to know that if there is to be a god, whoever They may be, They are not static, They are constantly at work and They are something one is to experience. All the Suns and the Stars, and the Atoms and Molecules, and all the motions and spaces we make in between, if there is to be a god, They are done and undone here. Something that is unbounded, experienced, practiced, embodied. We find God in the Sun rising, but we also find God in watching it do so, in looking at the world each day as though it were the first time we were here insofar as we may see the magic in each moment. There is beauty in so many things, there is this magic in the everyday, those heartbeats to the universe one ought to dance to. In that sense, and this is not a new concept, but I do believe God is more suited to being a verb. Although, God, at least our understandings of a god, is probably more suited to something beyond our language, but for now words are the best thing I have and I say God as a verb much like R. Buckminster Fuller’s [4] understanding of God being a verb insofar as:

“Here is God’s purpose – For God, to me, it seems, is a verb not a noun, proper or improper; is the articulation not the art, objective or subjective; is loving, not the abstraction “love” commanded or entreated; is knowledge dynamic, not legislative code, not proclamation law, not academic dogma, nor ecclesiastic cannon. Yes, God is a verb, the most active, connoting the vast harmonic reordering of the universe from unleashed chaos of energy. And there is born unheralded a great natural peace, not out of exclusive pseudo-static security but out of including, redefining, dynamic balancing. Naught is lost. Only the false and nonexistent are dispelled.”

But for now, whether or not I believe in a god, I do have this sense of spirituality beyond myself; it could be everything and it could be nothing, but it is something and the Sun will still rise each day and I will always be grateful to see Her. She will set and Venus will dance in her absence as the Moon awakens in great mirrored light to inky night skies which will never not be captivating, but regardless of how lost I become in the night to wonder or fear, I know She will return in the morning to ground me once again, to make it all okay. She is a constant and I am grateful to be able to say “good morning” each day.

I have borrowed a lot from others today as it is hard to find the words to write on such a thing, and yet here I am weaving and crafting pieces together to try to make sense of that “name”. However, as I have been reading much Mary Oliver, I feel I ought to share a poem on this. So, I will end today with a poem of my own, Summer Breaths:

And suddenly it was okay to breathe.
Though unbeknownst to me,
As my lungs still clung desperately to the storm of their last breath.
But suddenly,
As if by seas parting
And tides shifting
This great world of ours kept spinning
And Spring returned with his calm joys,
He always did… He always will…
As Winter slowly crept back into the forests for yet another year,
As my legs started to shake,
As my lungs finally caved
Heaving out yet another storm
Clearing skies
Darkness was unknown for miles around me,
And there was Summer,
Appearing once again.
How beautiful she always looks
How necessary she has come to be,
The glowing yellow of her months
A halo to my years.
And suddenly Summer was here again
And she needn’t say what her being implied,
What her warmth and light told me each day.
Summer came and I simply knew,

It was finally okay to breathe.

Live Long & Prosper

[1] Oliver, M. (1992). New and Selected Poems: Volume 1. Beacon Press.

[2] Schmitt, É. (2006). Oscar et la Dame Rose. Magnard.

[3] Ladinsky, D. (1999). The Gift. Penguin Compass.

[4] Fuller, R. (1971). No more secondhand God and other writings. Doubleday.


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