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Wendy Warren

You could assume that Wendy Warren thinks, talks and dreams about news twenty four-seven. After all she has spent most of her professional life as a journalist first in in South Carolina, then Allentown and now in Philadelphia where she's the editor of Philly.com. But as a mother, a wife and a citizen concerned about the city's future, Warren found inspiration for this essay in a poem she read a while back.

Read Rosalie Grayer's poem "Altar Smoke"





I believe in the struggle to raise my eyes.


One of my favorite poems is called "Altar Smoke." I discovered it in my first book of poetry, an anthology that my parents gave me when I was only two. It took me a long time to find "Altar Smoke" - obviously, I wasn't reading much at age 2, and even when I could appreciate the poetry in my book it was Ogden Nash and the romantic story-poems that I read first.


But when I finally discovered the poem, it spoke to me of something that I had rarely seen in literature: it describes a love of the day-to-day, the homey, the tidy and loved accoutrements of our lives. It celebrates painted houses, tended gardens and worn stone steps.


The author, Rosalie Grayer, writes of her love for "the square aggressiveness of new-cut hedges" and of how frost on windows reminds us that we are warm inside; a love for "the little, lived-with things a man crowds upon his worn fistful of earth."


I love those things, too. I could spend my life in the details. It gives me a thrill of satisfaction to put new mums by the front porch and pick up the shoes that seem to multiply overnight. I am obsessed with cleaning out a bottomless e-mail in-box.


I like to show up for my daughter's cheerleading practice on time and with clothes on that suggest I didn't just rush from the train station after work. I like my car washed.


Grayer gets me. She call these little goals "burnt offerings" that "make a sweet savour unto my soul."


And she also know they aren't nearly enough.


She writes, "Give me the strength, my God, to raise my eyes."


Each time I read this I experience a deep wrenching feeling as I am reminded of the narrowness of my priorities; as I am reminded that my small goals are, at best, unimportant and, at worst, beguiling distractions.


I must raise my eyes.


I must refocus on far more difficult questions: things like is my daughter growing with an "inquiring and discerning heart," as we prayed for her when she was baptized? Have I told my family and friends that I love them, and why I do? Am I helping to make my communities, my daughter's school, my workplace - places of tolerance and growth?


Grayer seeks to raise her eyes to see the "blue web of infinity," to see the divine.


I wish I could. But if I can't or I'm not, I can struggle to do so.


This is not a noble struggle. I'm not battling illness or loss, like so many people have to. But it is my struggle: armed with my little grain of belief that I am called to do more than the day to day, I can try to lose my priorities in the eternal.


I've always admired Grayer for understanding the difficulty of this struggle. Particularly given her story. The poet who has continually pushed me to refocus my own life was only 17 when she wrote "Altar Smoke." She wrote in 1946 it while a student at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn for an Inter-High School poetry contest.


Yet, at that age, she saw what she calls the "blue sweep of forever." And if she can raise her eyes, I can try.