Sunday Sermon: The More Than Ten Commandments

Easter calls for a special Sunday Sermon, and I have one for you.

It’s a favorite poem of mine, written by my mother many years ago. Even though she didn’t always agree with my personal decisions (that makes two of us, mom!), my mom loved me without condition, and often showed it by hopping on a plane and landing on my doorstep for a visit.



One year, she and her best friend visited me and my then boyfriend (the part of my life that she didn’t agree with at the time), at Rancho La Puerta where we were working. It so happened that the same week, the late Pulitzer Prize winning Poet Laureate of Vermont, Galway Kinnell, was there offering poetry readings and workshops for the guests.

In between trying her hand at morning meadow walks, aqua aerobics, and communal meals of tempeh and tofu, she and an equally smitten group of women, followed Galway’s workshops religiously. Just google him and you’ll understand why.

As I walked across the Ranch between my classes, I’d often see members of his dedicated fan club sitting in the gazebo with a cup of tea or in the swing under the big pepper tree, crafting homemade poetry to share later in the afternoon.


A place to write.

My mom did some wonderful writing that week and she shared her poems with me as time went on. Many of them were deep, raw reflections on her life raising five children with an introverted, often silent partner, while forging a successful career in college health nursing on the side.

Initially, I was caught off guard by the candor of her words and the angst I seemed to have missed about life in my house growing up. But later, I loved knowing more about this strong, gutsy side of her. A piece about Galway I unearthed in the NYTimes provided an explanation for her brave and honest writing. It’s what Galway must have been teaching them all week. It seems like “go deep or go home” was his philosophy:

“I’ve tried to carry my poetry as far as I could.  To dwell on the ugly as fully, as far and as long as I could stomach it. Probably more than most poets I have included in my work the unpleasant, because I think if you are ever going to find any kind of truth to poetry it has to be based on all of experience rather than on a narrow segment of cheerful events.”

The poem I share with you today is not like that. It is gentle and hopeful. It is full of wellness and promise. Kind of like Easter.

It was published in a beautiful journal called Sacred Journey, soon after my mom wrote it. It was a wellness moment for her–to have her work acknowledged. I think it deserves to find its way into print again. And because I can (the beauty of having your own blog), I will! Enjoy.


The More Than Ten Commandments
by Mary-Kate Heffern

I must get up early.
I must walk three times a week.
I must floss my teeth.
I must read food labels.
I must limit the fat I eat.
I must increase the fiber.
I must avoid eating salt.
I must drink skimmed milk.
I must eat fresh fruits and vegetables
and peel them only if necessary.
First I must scrub them well.
I must save the peelings for mulch.
I must separate cast-off papers from cans and bottles.
I must put them in their proper containers
and set them out on the sidewalk for collection
on the right days of the month.
I must shade my skin from the direct rays of the sun
and check each mole carefully
noting any change in size or shape.
I must avoid excess amounts of caffeine.
I must avoid excess amounts of alcohol.
I must not smoke, at all!
I must stretch my limbs regularly
and lift or push against resistance.
I must wear a seat belt in a car and a helmet on a bike.
When I am over fifty I must have a yearly mammogram;
perhaps before. Let me check the ad.
I must eat three meals daily,
preferably dividing the calories equally among them.
I must drink eight glasses of water each day as well.
I must drink orange juice,
and be careful to remember calcium.
I must trim my toenails straight across,
and see the dentist every six months.
I must write in my diary, keep track of my expenditures,
and develop goals based upon set priorities.

If I obey these commands, there’s a chance I will live
longer than predicted.

On the other hand,
If I believe,

Then I will live

Thanks Mom. Beautifully written. I think Galway would be proud!

Feel good. Be well. Meg

WELLNESS PROMPT:  Galway Kinnell’s poetry workshop was the first time my mom tried her hand at writing poetry. What’s new and hopeful on your wellness screen these days? What have you always wanted to try, but never took that bold first step?  10-minute write . . . go!


MomAbout my Sunday Sermon: Sunday Sermon is a tribute to my beautiful, 87 year old mom, who was teaching me about wellness before the word was part of our daily lexicon. She used to give me long “lectures” on life–as only a mother can do–while we shared breakfast at Harry’s Luncheonette in Princeton. When she was finished talking, I’d often laugh and say, “Thanks for the sermon, mom. Does that mean I don’t have to go to church on Sunday?” When I stumble on a wellness thought and take the time to write about it for fun and personal insight, it makes me think of those good times.

5 Comments on “Sunday Sermon: The More Than Ten Commandments

    • Thanks for reading Rena. My mom will appreciate knowing you enjoyed it!

  1. Wow – this was so inspiring! I printed out that list and an keeping it close by as a daily reminder. Your blog is amazing! I really want to start implementing better living habits and this was just what I needed. Thanks so much. You look amazing by the way!!!

    • Hi Carolann! Thank you so much for your lovely words. I cannot wait to share with my mom that you found her poem inspiring and printed it out. It will mean a lot to her. I, too, love her list. It is so simple and straight forward—kind of the reminder we all need to hear sometimes. Thanks for sharing. I will pass it on!

  2. I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme.
    Did you create this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you?
    Plz respond as I’m looking to design my own blog and would like to know where u got this
    from. appreciate it

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