Here is the email in its entirety:
Thank you for sharing “Wild Geese”. After Joe Biden used most of this poem as his reflection upon the anniversary of 9/11, I went in search of the poem. The two of Mary Oliver’s collections I own did not include it. I was happy to find it at your site and amazed, actually. Amazed and delighted, because a poem I find so “religious” is at the same time such a balm for you. I grew up Roman Catholic; I am now an Episcopal priest. I am convinced after 20 years that what most people throw away – the cats they heave – are indeed worth heaving. Sometimes we have to go deeper, below the interpretations of history, to find our own deeper truth.
Yes, a “barbarous” God exists in the pages of the Bible: What all-kind God and Father would will the death of a Beloved Son? How could God command Abraham to kill his son Isaac as a test of faith? Isn’t that sadistic? Yes, indeed. On the face of it. For us in the 21st century these stories are barbaric. They are foreign to our experience. They were not foreign to the persons for whom they were written when the “first fruits” in ancient societies were offered up to the deity – including in some cases, the first born child. In some places in later writings there seems to be a critique of these practices in the Bible itself. The question becomes, it seems to me, is it worth reinterpreting these stories for our own time, or do we jettison them and replace them with our own stories of sacrificial obedience and love? Yes, life does involve sacrifice – we give up our children constantly to the gods of war who exact a savage price. There are no rams in the thicket to take their place …
I hope the love, mercy is what you kept when you threw away the dead cat of guilt and the burdens of all that teaching that depressed and suffocated you. If you are still seeking a metaphor or metaphors for the love that is the universe and your place in it, Mary Oliver’s poetry surely hints at it in all its complexity. It is worth the search if you are willing to expand your conversation to include persons who have made a transition through the grief and disillusion you have experienced.
You have purified your heart. You have surrounded yourself with friends eager to share what they’ve rejected. Is it time to resume the search for what you seek and share what you have found as a replacement that has enriched you spiritually, given you new life? Perhaps you have done so.
Please forgive me if I’ve “pried” too much or presumed too much. You are obviously a sensitive soul. Thank you again for sharing a favorite poem.
And here is my reply:
Thank you for your email. I'm glad you enjoyed Wild Geese. It's a great poem. Funny that you find it religious. It seems very anti-religious to me, which is why I like it. I guess it's down to interpretation. I also think you are very presumptuous with your assumptions of me. My character is not nearly as weak as you suggest. The poem is not a balm to me. I find it inspirational, but I don't need to be soothed by it. I find it delightful. Perhaps it might be best to not assume what others are thinking and maybe just ask them.
You immediately go into apologetics with your loose, cherry-picked interpretations of the bible. If a caring, loving god inspired the words of the bible, I'm sure slavery would not have been condoned, nor the rape of daughters, nor the hatred of your own family (that was Jesus, by the way. How loving was that?) If it can't be taken literally, then the whole book is just about how you interpret it, which means it can mean anything, which means it's completely worthless as a guide. It IS completely worthless as a guide anyway. It was written in the middle east in the iron age by goat herders. It has zero relevance for today. It is filled with hate and murder with the occasional rape. Lovely. How you can find anything worthwhile in there is beyond me.
What little bit of "wisdom" in the bible is not original or new. The Golden Rule? Older than Jesus. He didn't come up with it. If he even existed, which is highly doubtful.
So no, it isn't worth reinterpreting those fables into stories for our own time. We don't need them. They fuel hate in people who interpret them literally, and just confuse good people who think they are the word of their god. They are completely useless to society.
And no, why do we need to replace them with more sacrificial obedience? Why do you need that? How is that healthy to anyone? Love, sure. We can all use love. But the bible is very thin in that department. Give me a book like The Golden Compass. That has love. And even sacrifice for the good of all mankind. A great epic story with no mixed messages to confuse people. It even has god.
Life involves compromise and sometimes sacrifice. But teaching children ethics, critical thinking and basic philosophy while giving them love will give them the structure they need to build their own moral code. Not one based on blind obedience and fear of eternal damnation if they make a mistake. How could a loving god torture his creation for all eternity just because they aren't blindly worshiping him? He needs some serious psychotherapy. That's insane.
I kept nothing from the bible or my early indoctrination into christianity. I have jettisoned the guilt and fear. There was no love to be had. There was only that blind sacrificial obedience you mentioned. That is not love. That is sickness.
And you presumed again that it depressed and suffocated me. I find that offensive that you would presume to know me. Do you talk to your parishioners with such condescension? Why not ask someone what they are thinking instead of arrogantly assuming. I did not experience grief. Although of course I was disillusioned by the lies of religion.
Shaking off the lies of the church, ridding myself of that sick pack of lies was the most liberating, uplifting, positive step I've ever taken.
Again, you presume that I am seeking some great truth. How patronizing. For me, the completely natural workings of the universe inspire and awe me daily. That is my truth and I am quite happy to explore it often. I don't need to find some god or false belief in a supreme being, or the ridiculous reward of an afterlife. I am happy to have nature in all its complexity. Science is fantastic. That's all I need. It's quite satisfying to rid myself of superstitions and myths. You should try it. It's quite liberating. Maybe it will help you to ask people their feelings and thoughts instead of filtering what you think they experience through your own worldview.
Oh, and you don't know who my friends are either. Again with the presumptions. I guess you probably don't think I"m a sensitive soul anymore. Well, when someone I've never met claims to know me so intimately, I get a bit irritated. I don't have a soul. Neither do you. Live this life for today, not for a future promise which doesn't exist.
I'm glad you enjoyed the poem. But just because I like it too, obviously for very different reasons, doesn't mean I think like you or share your delusions.
I hope someday you too can shake off the shackles of blind faith, sacrificial obedience, repression and future rewards for constant servitude.
Have a great day!