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From Despair to Delight

Wild Geese

          You do not have to be good.
          You do not have to walk on your knees
          for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
          You only have to let the soft animal of your body
          love what it loves.
          Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
          Meanwhile the world goes on.
          Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
          are moving across the landscapes,
          over the prairies and the deep trees,
          the mountains and the rivers.
          Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
          are heading home again.
          Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
          the world offers itself to your imagination,
          calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --

          over and over announcing your place
          in the family of things.

Mary Oliver

The first step in going from despair to delight is admitting despair, that held in common and in private.  As a common American culture, we didn’t know how despairing we were.  Before our befuddled eyes, we launched an unprovoked, acquisitive war on an innocent people in order to fuel the waste we squandered at home.  Patriotic flags and ribbons festooned our huge SUV’s, as if driving big cars, no matter the cost, were an act of pride.


Pride used to be the chief of the seven deadly sins.  But pride didn’t mean gladness for aliveness, a celebration of our center and what we’re doing with it.  It meant putting one’s self above and before others.  The SUV craze exemplified that old pride.  In order to be safe, we opted for huge, heavy cars that would smash rather than be smashed in accidents, making others buy one in self-defense.  SUV’s block other’s views, take up lots of parking space, and burn lots more gas, resulting in lots more pollution.  But putting a flag on it showed we were “Proud to be an American.”


These flags popped up after 911, as if being shocked by an audacious and unexpected attack made us admirable.  We had a dose of unity, so “United We Stand.”  However, that unity was used in a premeditated, immoral and illegal attack, invasion, and occupation of Iraq, even though they had nothing to do with the 911 attack.  We spent hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars and wasted over two thousand of our soldiers, and hundreds of times that of their people avenging the deaths of our people in 911.  This roused up the fear and hate of the Iraqis and helped lead to a sectarian civil war.  Last October, they had more people killed in that one month alone than we did back over five years ago on 911.


We were put in the bind of “supporting our troops” no matter what they were doing.  Though our government never said we’re there to secure their oil and our strategic foothold in the region, Americans probably understood that, so between our perceived needs and “spreading democracy,” “we” appeared to go along.


This meant enormous pain for them and divisive stinginess for us.  United We Stand morphed into Untied We Stumble.  Our already rich got all the richer, as if the whole country’s mission was to help the poor rich by draining the lazy poor.  A feeding frenzy of “take what you can while you can” ensued, with many of our country’s corporations taking phony refuge in off-shore mailbox “corporate offices,” thereby paying nothing to the society that supports and protects them.


The media largely avoided admitting all this.  The president, Congress and Court beguiled us all and rationalized it all.  Those who exploit and abandon our country in order to amass private wealth got portrayed as admirable patriotic leaders.  With leadership like this, the people languish and plunge into interior guilt, anger, and escapism.  We privately despair, not realizing we’re collectively shocked, wearied, and tugged down into despair.


It is hard to realize our personal despair is bound up in our collective malaise.  It is hard to generate and activate a high vision from a place of despair.  First, we get rid of the causes of despair.


We did that in the midterm election of 2006.   Despite the pundit’s advice on the TV and radio, despite the sparse availability of real news and insightful analysis on the usual media sources, except towards the end, Americans came somewhat to their senses and sent a clear message to the powers that be: we’re sick of your morals, lies and lack of leadership.  We don’t know for sure what the other party offers, but we don’t want more of the current direction.


I was proud of the American people.  We’re not wasteful war mongers.  We want peace and prosperity at home and for foreigners abroad.  It is vague still, but vision is emerging.  Although the results were delightful we don’t yet have a vision of delight.


The central element in our evolving consciousness is that it is all right to live with delight.  It is good to live with delight.


Can you imagine a vision of delight, not only for us as we live our lives, but for others as well, and all life too?  Can you imaging our energy, food, shelter and community being satisfied in ecological, just, and sustainable ways?   Can you imagine our media being used to educate and inspire us more than dumb us down and make us anxious?  Can you imagine less work and more time for family, friends and fun?  Can you imagine studying, practicing, and achieving healthiness and happiness on a widespread cultural basis?  Can you imagine so-called third world people having their needs met and assured in an ecologically beneficial way?  Can the world save itself from strife and swing itself to delight?


It can, but it will take time even as more and more people agree and act to implement the vision.  To help steer us towards delight for all beings everywhere we need to learn to have it in ourselves as we go.  The world will change as you change, but if it doesn’t, don’t let that hold you back.  You go from despair to delight.


The Journey

                         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
                         recognized 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.

Mary Oliver


It is easy for liberals who naturally have a sense of care to get weighed down by the woes of the world.  We’re told to finish our food because of the starving people in China (or some such).  What we don’t see is the schizophrenic message this sends: eat while others starve.  Overeat, and be guilty.  All this, though it doesn’t matter at all to a starving person whether you eat or not.  Liberals need to remember that aspect of the conservative philosophy that was initially liberal: self-care and family care is not only ok to tend, it is how a vibrant, resourceful society is built.  We can tend to the collective better when we’re coming from a place of strength and freedom ourselves.


The collective exercise in voting we just enjoyed reminds us of our personal process too.  Collectively and personally, we’re so used to “how things evidently are” we don’t realize how down and out we’ve become.  We endure.  We lead lives of quiet desperation.  We waste days and years and decades being barely alive.


It is during such times of demands and drudgery that we try our best to be kind, or honest, or adventurous.  But that’s hard work.  We’re coming from a state of depravation, trying to maintain integrity while feeling exhausted.  We have to copy the election in ourselves; we have to throw the bums out to even get a glimmer of delight.


What are the bums?  You tell me.  Each of you has some idea, faint or obvious, fleeting or persistent, of what’s dragging you down.  It might be an old, worn set of ideas or has-been identity.  It might be a troubled relationship that needs some honest, freeing redirection.  It might be job that’s just not you, or it could be an addiction to one thing that saps all the spirit from everything else.  It might be some habitual attitude you adopted in reaction to life decades ago.  It might be a posture or gait that contains an old pain or sadness.  It might be a timidity that hides out at the loss of speaking out.  It could be … well, you tell me.  What keeps us in despair and blocks us from delight?  …


And what makes for delight?  Each of you has a glimmer of delight glowing in you.  You know what makes life not just bearable, but wonderful.  You know you could shine.  You know you could venture into being that best self you know you are, and not just try it out, but take it on and live it out.  It could be a better posture, an attitude, a thought, a diet, an exercise, a tone of voice, a passion for something, a revelry in some enjoyment.  You faintly remember some vision of yourself you had in childhood; it could be the door to your delight.  What is the door to your delight?  …


The Summer Day

  ... I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
  I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
  into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
  how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
  which is what I have been doing all day.
  Tell me, what else should I have done?
  Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
  Tell me, what is it you plan to do
  with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver


Dear ones, these Sabbath meetings can be difficult or empty.  They can be a rote going through the forms, only barely glimpsing the glory we really are.  Today, take something home into you.  Leave here with the resolve to renounce what keeps you in despair and to launch what leads you to delight.  Do this for yourself and it will have ripple benefit for your family, friends, fellowship, community, nation and world.  Take the precious gift of time and fulfill it.  Help America emerge from despair and go into delight by you yourself doing just that.  Have delight, and then share it.


Reverend Byron B. Carrier

For the Unitarian Universalists of Grants Pass (Oregon)

© December 3, 2006

Byron has been using his writing and public speaking to engage, challenge and inspire audiences for over 40 years. Reverend Carrier's mission is to rescue and revive our earthly Eden, including our human worth and potential. If you enjoy his work, consider supporting him with Patreon.

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