Maria Shine Stewart

A supervisor of mine in my early days as an academic secretary told me: “Too many people see leadership as the right to dominate rather than the responsibility to serve.” Her wisdom and her example have stayed with me. As a teacher, I serve many systems and purposes: the college or organization, the great authors whose work is in textbooks, the students right in front of me, the organizations they will someday serve, and the part of myself that loves to create. It is a profound responsibility, one that takes energy, persistence, and dedication. Because it is people-intensive and text-intensive (I have close to 200 students a year at various locations), it is normal to get tired. What rejuvenates me? Above all nature, with its subtle messages. Writing this poem, as I did in a dry spell creatively, reminded me that “the whole earth is medicine,” as the Buddhists say. If anyone reading this is struggling, I gently suggest that you go outside. Quietly wait. Do nothing. A message may eventually appear as your conscious mind relaxes and your senses are rekindled by the smallest of creatures, the largest of trees, drifting clouds, the earth beneath your feet.

Maria Shine Stewart teaches throughout northeast Ohio and also is a professional writer and writing consultant. The following poem was previously published in UU Sangha, Vol.5 No:3, Summer 2001.


Quick Eyes

The flowers are alive today.
And butterflies. If you are hurt,
don’t forget the meadow.

Go tired, bring your heart.
Those who watch there
are quiet and constant.

They know we are connected
cell to cell
and, if you are lucky,

you may see a swallowtail—
point it out quickly
to a friend and find,

in the instant of your
turn,
that it has vanished.

But it saw you.
Don’t despair.
The small things do return.

Yesterday, a swallowtail
came back and settled
near my dress,

the faded one
with pink flowers
worn past its time.

It was a garden
to a butterfly—
dizzy, ecstatic,

loving color
and oblivious to the stories
of my life.

It stayed until
I found my heart;
then, spread its wings,

flew home.
If I laid flat
in this very wild place,

I would be nursed
by a whole community
of curious insects

with quick eyes
and ministering wings.
There is something

that sees before sight,
and sometimes the
small ones see it best.

There is something
that loves before love,
before even the heart knows.

~Maria Shine Stewart~


[Dan’s comment: Nature, in corporate terms, too often is still seen as representing something to be conquered. Whether it is through some “ropes course” or some other physically demanding team building event, such as mountain climbing or rafting down the Grand Canyon, nature is fundamentally viewed as an obstacle that brings people together in conquest. It’s all about “winning;” the ego becoming “fearless.” Maria’s poem reminds us differently and for the better how nature is actually a sacred presence that heals a weary or damaged spirit. Maybe conquest isn’t always the right direction. Maybe we can come to fearlessness, renewing our true bonds with others, in a totally different way, particularly if we are capable of listening to the deeper, quieter, “smaller” voices of our own intuition.]