Friends, Mary Oliver died last week. Her poem “Wild Geese” inspires our logo, and I’m betting that many of you, like me, have begun talks or meditations with her poems. My only regret is that we never reached out to her to join Religious Naturalist Association, as I suspect she’d have been as happy to find us as we would be to have her.

We can’t make that mistake again, because there are many wonderful poets, musicians, and other artists who take their cues from nature, and whose contributions bolster our notion of what a religious orientation to life can entail. That is underscored by the work of two of our new members, one a prize-winning poet, and the other a worldwide expert and practitioner of haiku. I don’t have permission to lift them up by name here, but you can find them and other artists on the “Members’ Projects” page on our website.

Contemplating all the artists we now have as members (a quick scan of our membership list tells me there are at least 24 professional artists, and that does not count those who see their art as an avocation, or who take an artistic attitude toward their occupations, or who simply love art), I am re-thinking something we’ve thought about before, and soliciting your feedback, which intersects with an existential question we are always asking here in the sprawling headquarters of Religious Naturalist Association, namely how can we best serve our members.

The specific question I’m asking is whether you might have an interest in a separate listserv dedicated to art, open not only to our artists but to anyone who wants to talk about art, think about art, share art (their own or some that they find meaningful)? If so I’d be willing to set up that listserv, and I’m thinking if there are as few as 10 people who respond, we could try it.

While I’m on the subject I have a related question. We’ve talked from time to time about “local groups,” and now that we are above the numerical threshold of what it might take to form such groups in many areas, I would like to re-visit that subject as well. It seems to me we could “test the waters” virtually, by creating groups that are on-line, open to members in specific geographic areas. For example, suppose we pulled a city out of the air (say Des Moines, Iowa) and drew a circle on the map large enough to include say 50 of our members, and invited them to join such an on-line group. If 50 proved too few (in terms of how vibrant the discussion was) we could always broaden the geographical circle (or make future circles smaller, for that matter). And that might (or might not) segue into a “live” meeting of some sort. I’m especially interested in knowing if any of you would serve as the main facilitator of such an on-line group, and if so I’d be glad to help set it up.

Maybe it is because the New Year is always a time for thinking about new projects, or maybe Mary Oliver and the new artists among us inspire me to experiment, but I’m really hoping some of you resonate with these ideas and let me hear from you. And in any case, I truly hope our paths cross this year, either through the internet or personally.

Happy New Year to you all!
Michael Cavanaugh, Secretary
Religious Naturalist Association

When death comes
by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all
the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world