and I had time — just

I have spent much of the past month feeling angry with the Church of England. It happens sometimes. The Church of England can be a wonderful place, full of generosity and opportunity and unexpected relationships. And it can also be a place that leaves me feeling morally compromised each day, as I think ‘can I really do this? Does being an Anglican in England really mean that I must tolerate sexism, patriarchy, and tactics that silence dissent under a gloss of kindness?’ (Have I mentioned I’ve been angry with the C of E lately…)

So much of my understanding of Christianity is bound up with liberation. It is the experience of God surprising us, untying our knots, showing us blessing in unexpected places that first drew me to faith. There is inherent radicalism in realising that the incarnation demands that we see God in each person, and that the church is built on the fact that the bonds of friendship and shared purpose with God can go deeper than any limitations of family or tribe or culture. But so much of that gospel is hidden when I am supposed also to say that ‘these beliefs are optional. The church also teaches that women must be subject to men; and that gay people are only acceptable if they don’t fall in love.’

This morning, I refused to take part in a liturgy that blindly affirmed patriarchy in a jolly, old-boys way that meant no harm but erased women, and I thought again ‘what am I doing?’

And then, I picked up Mary Oliver, to soothe my nerves before settling down to plan a funeral.

This — this — is what I’m doing. There are days when I’m not sure if I’m the poem’s ‘I’ or the racoon. I’m not sure if I think the racoon is one person, those ones we exclude, or the church itself. But this is what I’m doing, and the hope of doing so, and continuing to do so, makes the frustration and moral outrage and sense of being compromised bearable. Almost. Usually.


The touch-me-nots
were still blooming,
though many had already gone to seed–
jewel of weeds, orange, beloved

of hummingbirds
for their deeply held sweets,
and the ripe pod, when touched,
so quick

to open and high-fly
its seeds into the world.
I was walking
down a path

where they grew, succulent and thick
in the damp earth near
a stream, when I saw
a trap

with a little raccoon inside,
as it felt, over and over,
the mesh of its capture,

and I had time —
just time —
to stumble down to the stream, and open the trap,
and say to the little one:

Run, run,
and the little one flew —
I did not touch him —
and climbed high into a tree.

And then I too, knowing the world,
ran through the jewel weeds
as someone, unknown and not smiling,
came down the path to where

the trap lay, stamped upon
by my very own feet,
and while I ran, the touch-me-nots
nodded affirmatively

their golden bodies —
I could not help but touch them —
and dashed forth their sleek pods,
oh, life flew around us, everywhere.

Mary Oliver
in New & Selected Poems vol.2

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