A Wild Love for the World by Hudson Gardner
photo: Hudson Gardner

On my 40th birthday, nearly ten years ago, this radio program was much more a possibility than a reality, and I was in despair. I was encountering skepticism at every turn; nothing was working out. I was about to give up — certain that this adventure, however passionately I had believed in it, was coming to an end. But somehow a copy of Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows’ translations of Rilke’s Book of Hours fell into my hand. I still vividly remember my defeated mood as I opened it up and read this poem in a coffee shop:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.
Rilke’s Book of Hours, I, 59

After reading this poem (listen to Joanna Macy’s recitation) for the first time those years ago, I began to breathe again. It cleared none of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles away. It simply gave me courage to keep moving forward, one foot in front of the other. This project might not work out, the dream might not come true, but I would see it through to the end.

So I made big shadows. I let beauty and terror happen to me. I learned a new universe of things about the seriousness of “the country they call life.” And after years of starts and stops, this program made its way into that country too.

I’ve ever after been grateful to Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows, not just to Rilke. I spent the early part of my adult life in Germany and had first read Rilke’s poetry in his singular, inventive, lush German. Until I found Macy and Barrows’ book, I didn’t believe any translator could render him into English.

They even translate his sense of the urgency about his century to the urgency of the century that is ours. And it is a gift, and a joy, to hear Rilke’s words in Joanna Macy’s English and even more in her voice as she ponders what she has learned in 81 years bravely lived and deeply examined. She knew Cold War Europe and also post-colonial India. There, her husband ran the newly minted Peace Corps, and she came to work with Tibetan refugees fleeing their country, following the exile of the young Dalai Lama. She later became an environmental activist before that term entered our global lexicon, visiting ravaged Chernobyl, protesting the Three Mile Island catastrophe. She is a delightedly wise elder, a kind of voice I love to bring to the air. And in all of her experiences, she has also acquired a long view of time with regard to political, spiritual, and ecological realities.

Joanna MacyIn our conversation for “A Wild Love for the World,” for example, she says this of her early discoveries about environmental degradation. “I realized that we were, through technology, having consequences with our decisions … that reached into geological time. … That we are making choices that will affect whether beings thousands of generations from now will be able to be born sound of mind and body.”

These days, Joanna Macy is best known as a Buddhist scholar and a philosopher of ecology. Her poetic sensibility and Buddhist savvy combine to give her a fresh and challenging take on our collective encounter with the environment now — an unfolding encounter that may define economics, cultures, and wars as well as ecology in the century ahead. Joanna Macy insists that we must embrace our passionate love for the world if we are to work with our grief at its unravelings and keep hope alive. She offers courage for the whole challenge of life and love in this present day.

It is so fitting and lovely that she should become our first show as Being.

Share Your Reflection



absolutely brilliant and heart wrenching. I was crying tears of deep empathy into my morning coffee.
She put into words what my soul has been trying to hear. Her words were like her hands, ancient and timeless, threading back to creation.

Oh. As I lay in bed this morning, "Being" awakened me. I was mesmerized as I listened to the voice of Joanna Macy reading Rilke. It was like being able to breathe again, to hope again. Thank you so much. I am inspired to share this and continue to hunger for more. M. Lathrop, Grand Rapids, MI.

Loved this story, Krista! Here's a less literary, but still potent, take on Being from New Thought writer and speaker, Neville Lancelot Goddard, who wrote The Power of Awareness in 1952: "The future becomes the present when you imagine that you are already what you will be when your assumption is fulfilled. Be still (least action) and know that you are that which you desire to be. The end of longing should be Being." (p. 47)

All the others said it better than I could. A very important program for a person like me, whose spiritual life is a journey of questions and whose time in "church" each Sunday is spent instead in a meadow, by a pond, in a woods, by a marsh. Deep thanks

I listened to this broadcast as I was driving home from a weekend away. I am happy to say I have known of Joanna Macy and experienced her in person several times in my life. This particular broadcast was so beautifully put together I enjoyed every second of it and it left me very inspired and alive feeling. Krista and Joanna are lovely together. I shall request many people to listen to this and I will purchase as many copies of those incredible translations to give to one and all- thank you for a very inspiring drive!

Thank goodness you found Rilke's poem! Supposing you had given up. We would not now have your interviews on which to rely. Also love the transformation into Being.

The Rilke piece resonated this for me:

"Victorious Spirit!
Flame through the impotence of irresolute souls!
Burn up egotism, ignite compassion
so that selflessness, the lifestream of humanity
may flow as the wellspring of spiritual rebirth."
-Rudolf Steiner

Somehow this show touched my soul. Thank you

Moving as a reader of poetry. I loved this program, and sat at the kitchen counter, my eyes filling with tears, at the ferociousness of how this woman loves all things living.

Having just returned from my birth place, Dublin, Ireland, I was thrilled to awaken way before dawn and listen to this wonderful interview. Ireland is a land of mysticism and longing and a place I cannot help but feel drawn towards, though my life here in America is very real too. Joanna's reflections and Rilkes poetry were just the medicine my soul needed this morning.
thank you.
gemma adams

This was a wonderful interview and thought provoking. People are so overwhelmed by things daily and this really framed up ideas I had had and things I'd gone through. It was so satisfying to "identify" that. It inspired this post http://pearlthediabeticcat.blo...

Some may not understand but believe me, there are people everyday who experience this and come looking for help, desperate for advice. I now have something to give them to listen to.