Walking with the Tender Awe of Poetry: A Hand of Blessing on Ashes

Guest post by my friend and colleague Darcy Wiley.

Grief was like a snowdrift. I paid my respects at five funerals in six months, so my sluggishness was no surprise. Half my winter days, I lingered on the couch or hid under a blanket, pressed down by life’s excesses and tragedies. But in late winter, tired of being tired, I started a habit of walking and listening to Padraig O’Tuama reading other people’s poems on the Poetry Unbound podcast. These poems have been a tender parent sitting at the edge of the bed, nudging a sleepy part of myself to stretch awake and see the world again. 

For each walk, I put one foot in front of the other, insert my earbuds, and move through a poem’s lines. Accompanied by the music created for each piece, and O’Tuama’s thoughtful interaction with the themes and language, my lethargy gives way to energy.

If a poem doesn’t find meaning or reason, then it points to something achingly beautiful and says, “Come look.” It puts together colors or patterns I’d never expect, and opens the blackout curtains. I can turn from overthinking. I can turn from trying to figure out the mysteries of life and death.

When I am paralyzed by responsibilities or existential questions, the embodied activity of walking with poetry helps my brain feel more spacious.. The immersive experience releases pressure, and enlarges my imagination. 

Poetry doesn’t ask much of me. It doesn’t pound on the door or pulse a morning alarm to wake me. I’m invited up from my sluggishness, not jarred from it.

Poetry may not solve problems, but it often de-centers them, bending toward small creatures and hidden moments, describing them with profound respect and affection.

The poet doesn’t put out today’s wildfires, but shows me how to love the earth as if it’s a child with a fever. A poem doesn’t take away my sadness, but it paints the image of a frozen lake and warm breath taking shape in cold air, a scene “where sadness makes sense.” A poem honors a watery exhale and geometric designs on a sea turtle who didn’t survive an oil spill. A poem invites me to kneel with a young man in a tight religious system who has no way to voice his sorrow and confusion except to pull a fire alarm.

Poetry is astonishment and lamentation, celebration and confession. The words behold the world with reverence. 

In her poem, “Song for the Turtles of the Gulf,” Linda Hogan writes, “…all I can think is that I loved your life, the very air you exhaled when you rose, old great mother, the beautiful swimmer.” As I type these words, I realize how closely they describe my feelings about a precious friend who died after an accident last November. She was a motherly sage. She was a swimmer. She was also a poet. Poems like this one treat living things and raw materials with a tender awe, which is the way I want to go about remembering my friend’s life. Poetry honors the unique, irreplaceable essence of a creation. The words put a hand of blessing on ashes. The words rise like a miracle, the way dust comes to life in God’s hands.

Walking with poetry in my ear makes my days feel less like toil. My new habit tunes me in with the world, and articulates my love for the life in every created thing. Beautiful words, and the people who write or speak them, stir a sense of wonder that nudges me out from the covers to meet the day. 


Darcy Wiley is a writer and spiritual director who cultivates empathy, imagination, and a profound experience of God in the world. Through thoughtful listening, she companions readers and directees toward emotional, spiritual, and cultural flourishing. Among other works, as co-writer of The Yes Effect: Accepting God’s Invitation to Transform the World Around You, Darcy worked with the founder of the 10/40 Window Movement to share stories of renewal and reconciliation in communities all over the globe. She enjoys hiking with her family, gardening, abstract art, and making music with her drummer husband and friends. Connect with Darcy at darcywiley.com or on Instagram

2 thoughts on “Walking with the Tender Awe of Poetry: A Hand of Blessing on Ashes

  1. When I find something this life-giving, it makes me feel major gratitude for all the steps that it took for it to get to me, from the poet to the podcaster to the producer. I’m so thankful they did the work to bring beauty out into the open. Thank you for hosting and giving me space to respond to their work here.

    Liked by 1 person

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