Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cultivating amazement

There is only one question, says the poet Mary Oliver: "How to love this world."

So here I am scanning a recent copy of the journal Nature, with articles titled "Parvalbumin neurons and gamma rhythms enhance cortical circuit performance" and "F-box protein FBX031 mediates cyclin D1 degradation to induce G1 arrest after DNA damage."

What is this stuff to me, and how does it help me love the world?

In her poetry, Oliver brilliantly evokes the sensate stimuli of love: the "lapped light" of pond lilies in the black pond, the goldfinch hatchlings "in the swaying branches, in the silver baskets," the dead snake in the road "as cool and gleaming as a braided whip."

Who can walk in the world that Oliver describes and not be blown over by love, made stammering and speechless?

And here I am wading through articles with titles like "Kinematic variables and water transport control the formation and location of arc volcanoes." What is here, among this technical language, to pluck the heartstrings?

I'll tell you.

What we glimpse in these technical reports -- some of which I understand and some of which I don't -- is the invisible machinery of the world, the magic of the elements, the sizzling fuse that burns in every atom, every molecule, every cell -- igniting, creating, animating.

We glimpse what Mary Oliver calls "the white fire of a great mystery."

Yes, there is only one question: How to love this world? That's why I read poets. And why I read Science and Nature, too. When it's over, I want to say with Oliver:
...all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.