A popular and best-selling poet died last month. Mary Oliver was an author of more than 20 volumes of verse winning the hearts of many readers. As described, "She won a legion of loyal readers with brief, unfussy poems that explored the majesty and mystery of the natural world -- and humanity's often ugly and destructive ways." She will be greatly missed. I am one of her many fans, marveling how she could convey so much meaning with so few words.

Some of her poetry has a mystical quality. It goes beyond a simple description of what one sees and experiences, leaning to a mystical sense of what lies beyond us. Like many mystics, she touched in gentle ways the reality of an existence not seen but nevertheless experienced. Contemplative people call this the presence of a transcendent consciousness that enters our consciousness as a gift. It usually doesn't originate in our thinking but is received as an inspiration of the heart. It is welcomed by those who listen not only to the thoughts of the mind but the inspirations of the heart. The heart can convey the warmth of this mystical reality.

Perhaps you have had such an experience. I have had many that have become memorable gifts to my life. They are usually simple. I remember as a young teenager walking from my prep school to a lovely spot overlooking the Hudson River. It was autumn and all the trees were in full bloom with their colorful leaves. I especially liked the brilliant red of the maples, a color I didn't often see growing up in northern Arizona. Looking at this beauty, and gazing down to the river, I felt a divine presence surrounding me. I was not alone, even though by myself. I was in the company of a great Mystery that was present to me as if I were being gently hugged. I knew that there was more to my life than just what I could see -- but in seeing what is I knew there was more.

Mary Oliver could often say in just a few words what I have described. Her short poem says it all:

"Still, what I want in my life

Is to be willing

To be dazzled-

To cast aside the weight of facts

And maybe even

To float a little

Above this difficult world.

I want to believe I am looking

Into the white fire of a great mystery.

I want to believe that the imperfections

Are nothing-

That the light is everything ..."

("The Ponds")