Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Remembering Pete

Around 4 a.m. on this dark rainy morning of December 30, Peter Sobek died.

Not one of you know Pete. I am sure of this. Not many people did. For about 4 years I lived in his neighborhood, where he lived on a little cot in the living room of a tiny condo he shared his grown daughter. He was lonely, sick, isolated, often worried. As far as I could tell in the last couple of years he had no interactions with anyone in this world but his daughter and health care professionals and my family. And yet, whoever knew him loved him and even more--he loved them. He always spoke words of love, of appreciation--to hear him tell it, his daughter, as well every cleaning lady, every physical therapist, every orderly at every convaslescent home was a saint-- "good people"...

He was an ex-drinker, completely estranged from one son and almost estranged from a second. And yet he called my son "Smilely," and gave him candy and played little games with him and showed care for Luke every time we were together--no matter how sick he was feeling.

He was "not a very good Catholic," who had not been to a church in many, many years. And he told me Jesus was with him, and comforted him and answered his prayers. Once I came over and he was reading the Bible--the book of Mark-- he said, "look here Jenny. I thought this was going to be prayers--but it's all this that Jesus did and said. It's just wonderful."

Often at the end of our visits I would say, "Pete, can I pray for you," and he would agree and then start praying the Lord's Prayer. Yesterday, by God's generous goodness to me, I was able to visit him for the last time. He was too weak to do more than open his eyes for a second, but he held my hand for a little while and before I left I prayed --and I sincerely believe he prayed with me--the prayer Jesus gave us.

Once he said to me, in thanks for some extremely small thing I had done for him,
"you are just like a mother to me." It was the kind of extravagent grace he always showed--but to be compared to the mother of a man in his 80s really struck me. I keep thinking about how my own son will some day have to travel this same route--and I likely won't be there as he travels it. I trust that God will bring him friends then. And I think how unspeakably horrible it is to imagine that my son's gloriously beautiful and perfect body will someday wither and fail him and he will gasp for his last breaths and then die.

But this Christmas God has reminded me that he has sent his own Son to take on flesh as weak as ours. He allowed his own son to walk into death, to gasp for breath and not to find it. That is the gift he has given us. He has met us in our unspeakable weakness and he has redeemed it, transformed it....brought out of it resurrection and life.

I was trying, in some small way, to talk about this with Luke. He summarized it beautifully, better than I could ever have said. He said, today, when we were talking about Pete's passing-- "Jesus died before Pete. He went before him. So he can show him the way."

A few years ago, when Pete had his first heart attack, Luke and I went to visit him in the convaslescent home -- and when we returned I wrote this poem. I'll publish it here again (I know I have before as well) with profound gratitude to God for allowing our family to know his friend Peter Sobek.

Returning From Visiting The Convalescent Home

In the dark wind, husks
of seed pods rustle; grasses
leaning, knocking into one another
a soft and brittle chiming.

Tomorrow in the morning, I’ll walk
among the careless, amber weeds
full of their wet, jeweled light.

See how it was--the keening
then the kneeling--
and how they too have flung
their last bruised kernels away.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Supernatural Love

I stumbled on this poem by Gjertrud Schnackenberg (and I sincerely and deeply hope I never am called upon to pronounce this name).

The poem is so PRETTY and such a delight--the word play and meaning and sound just thrilled me and it was so happy. I wanted to pass it on.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Building cathedrals, being a mother and bad (or not very good) poems

A friend's mother sent her this little essay or poem, and she forwarded it to me. Apparently it's from Nicole Johnson's novel, The Invisible Woman. I think that there's a lot of beautiful, loving intention in this, but I personally don't like it. And it's so easy to rant and I don't like it when I do that either.

Read it before you read the rant--

I'm invisible.

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store.

Inside I'm thinking, "Can't you see I'm on the phone?"Obviously not. No one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all.

I'm invisible.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this? Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, "What time is it?" I'm a satellite guide to answer, "What number is the Disney Channel?" I'm a car to order, "Right around 5:30, please."

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude -but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again.

She's going ... she's going ... she's gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself as I looked down at my out-of-style dress; it was the only thing I could find that was clean. My unwashed hair was pulled up in a banana clip and I was afraid I could actually smell peanut butter in it.

I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, "I brought you this." It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe.I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription:"To Charlotte, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees."

In the days ahead I would read - no, devour - the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work:
* No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names.
* These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished.
* They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.
* The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, "Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it."
And the workman replied, "Because God sees."

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, "I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become."

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride. I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on.

The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree. When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, "My mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table." That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want himto want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add,"You're gonna love it there."

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.

I do know we are called to die to ourselves, to find our lives by losing it. I do know that this is not just some heroic intention, some dramatic call to martyrdom so that we forever find a pathetic way to get sympathy and admiration. This is a real call to love, and it's hard and feels like death and it does sometimes play itself out in making peanut butter sandwhiches, in sleepless nights with children, in giving up pursuits of fashionable clothing or other, in creating a home that is welcoming, loving, nurturing. But this essay feels like it falls a lot further on the side of martyrdom in a way that is not healthy for anyone in the family. As if it is important for mothers to become invisible. I don't believe that creates healthy children. And I don't believe that is "cathedral building."

On the other hand, I am very drawn to the idea of building cathedrals--and of that metaphor as a way to understand being a Christian artist. That is what I want to learn. How can we, as Christian artists, go against a long culture of artists that says the ultimate for the artist is self-expression and instead grow a conception of ourselves as in a community that is building something beautiful and grand and far far beyond ourselves and yet coming from our very selves. I am so grateful to be part of a family and a church--to be in a community where I am not the center of the universe but where I give what is me to what is bigger than me. And still, I am still longing to find myself and other artists creating more within that community.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bright Star

Jane Campion's Bright Star --about the Romantic poet John Keats and his romance with his young neighbor, Fanny Brawne-- surprised me. I expected gorgeous and provocative cineamatography, moody passion and brilliant dialog. I expected the frilly, sensual, temptestuos spirit of the romantic poets to be made palpable, visual, alive. But I didn't expect
to leave the theater truly grieving John Keats, who died so young of tuberculosis. I didn't expect that I would be able to imagine what might have been--the warm homey love he and Fanny could have shared in a small house in the English countryside. I could picture him delighting and doting on their children in between writing sessions. I could picture her entertaining guests and protecting his privacy. I wanted all that for them.

Of course, they never married. He was too poor at first, and then also too sick. Their romance is quite legendary--but for me it had always been something static, like a pretty little figurine, and something emblematic, one more accessory for a Romantic poet to have--the passionate love, the debilitating illness, the unacknowledged brilliance. Through Campion's great work, though, he became a real person to me. As did she.

It was a great, fun movie. It made me think about art and relationships in new ways. Fanny was an incredibly gifted and precocious seamstress--who designed and sewed all her clothes. This was a beautiful visual aspect of the movie and it also set up an interesting opposition between the male, intellectual, serious art of poetry and her own more craftsman, more female, less intellectually respected art. If only she could have used her craft to provide the income for the couple!

I found myself more sympathetic to what it would be like to be in that time period, with the restrictions on women and on relationships that the culture imposed.

There was also an interesting tension between Fanny Brawne and John Keats' best poet friend, Mr Brown. At first I thought their intense hatred of each other was simply funny, something flirty and rather inconsequential. But there was something deeper, more elemental to it-- a truer belief in the lover's part on actual love, versus the older poet's more cynical nature.

I guess I also loved the movie because it showed an incredibly sensual, passionate romance without any sex--gratuitous or otherwise. That took creativity and art to pull off.

I had thought of Keats as being another romantic like Shelley, who left a horrible mess in his wake as they pursued his own agenda in the name of his passions. But in this portrayal Keats seemed driven by ideals and virtues bigger than himself.

The tragedy, especially for Brawne, was that the ideal of romantic love was still not big enough. As she went to wander the heath, dressed all in black after his death, I had another wish--not only that they could have lived out their lives together--but that she could have had a deeper vision to sustain her, a truer hope for her to lodge her amazing spirit.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The broken artist

Novelist Jeanette Winterson recently had an essay in the Wall Street Journal titled "In Praise of the Crack-up" where she wrote about the link between mental illness and despair and creative artistic people.

I haven't had the burden of struggling with true mental illness the way so many artists have, (including some friends and members of my own family). Not that I can't do a mood pretty darn well---but I can only blame my moods on my own brattiness--

That said, I know mental illness is a true issue for many people and many artists--and even without the highs and lows of the bipolar brain, many of us artists still seem to find ourselves broken in just the places where we also find our greatest moments of transcendence. In this light, the last few paragraphs were just so resonate for me--they seemed hauntingly true. I wanted to record them here.

"Art isn't a surface activity. It comes from a deep place and it meets the wound we each carry.

Even when our lives are going well, there is something that prowls the borders, unseen, unfelt. The existential depression that is becoming a condition of humankind, experienced as loss of meaning, a kind of empty bafflement....

Longing is painful. Every work of art is an attempt to bring into being the object of loss. The pictures, the music, the peoems and the performances are an intense engagement with loss. While one is in the act of making, one is not in loss, and one has meaning. The fierce crashes that happen to many creative people when a piece of work is done...come out of the sense that however good the work, it has not answered the loss.

The strange thing about creative work is that it can have enormous value for others while its maker is left ravaged. The ancient Greeks understood this as the price of an encounter with a god--the divine forces enter the human and use him or her as an instrument, only to be ultimately destroyed. But I do not believe that creativity is destructive or divine. I believe it is the part of us that gives shape and voice to our innermost reality.

This is frightening. Encounters with the real, in particular, what we really feel, are something we generally try to avoid. Art mediates the encounter, allowing us to get nearer to our longing and our loss, to risk more, to dare more. Yet for the maker, the exposure is not mediated; it is total and terrifying. That is why so many creative people cut themselves off from their own experience, using drugs or drink or sex or shipwreck to avoid absolute exposure to the pain of creativity...."

Earlier in the article, Winterson compares this artistic struggle with the wounding blessing that Jacob received as he wrestled with God.

I believe she is on to something--when we make art we are in the midst of the real-- the real longing and loneliness and loss of every heart, the terrifying wonder of our existence-- and it's pretty terrible at times, isn't it-

and yet, the artist is the person who can't stay away from the real--even if they drug themselves so as to avoid dealing with it--still, all that brokeness must not be the only option for the artist--

I hope we can learn--I hope I can learn --God's redemption in this--and in the meantime, I hope I learn to want to be broken by truth more than live comfortably with falseness. The final story of blessing I hope is not only wounding but a larger story of encounter. Encounter that is not only worth the violence it incurs but also redeems it.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

writing a poem is hard

for me, at least.

It's gotten much harder, not easier, in the last three and a half years that I've been at this. I'm sure my expectations of the results are higher now. And at the same time, though I've learned what makes a better poem, to some small degree, the basic raw material (my knowledge of the language, my life experience and observations) are not really improved. So no wonder it's not any easier.

It may be that I write some better poems now, but I'm not even sure of that.

I've just been noticing, and had this confirmed by the experience and testimony of my poet friends, that most good poems take more than six months to complete. And often more than a year, with many many rewrites and also months of shelving them and then taking them out and working and reworking.

The art form doesn't seem, in my experience, to do well with hurrying.

I guess it surprises me to know that a small one page poem might take me most of a year to write. Thankfully, I can work on a few at a time. And thankfully, as well, it's fun for me and it's good to learn to let go of productivity as way of judging value. And it's also a mercy I don't have to make a living doing this.

Monday, September 14, 2009

the murky waters of our obsessions

Probably one of my biggest roadblocks in my spiritual formation (that I can discern, at least) is this tendency to get bogged down by my small worries (that seem not so small) and just completely absorbed in them. Not that these things have no importance, but it seems to me that I make my worrying about them all important--I let it become my life--as if there is no Creator and Redeemer who is working out his story in all of history, advancing his Good Kingdom into every corner of this sad and glorious planet.

I make my universe about me-- me figuring out whether Luke should stay in preschool, me trying to fix whatever I think is uncomfortable in my marriage, me attempting to get rid of any bad habit I have, me trying to make some kind of grade with my church community-- and I get completely absorbed in this-- and truly have gotten blinded to God's light.

After another early morning of sitting on my couch doing nothing but this kind of obsessing-- I came to the computer and read a little excerpt of some of our recent American history that seemed to me to illustrate very well this human ability to miss what's going on because of where we have decided to fix our gaze and our mind.

The Writer's Almanac (an NPR radio broadcast by Garrison Kellior which also has a daily email version) recounted a bit of the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky story. At the end of that synopsis, there was this telling paragraph:

In the months that the Lewinsky scandal was dominating the press, the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were bombed, killing 224 people and injuring more than 4,500, and soon linked to Osama Bin Laden. During this same time period of the Lewinsky scandal, Hugo Chávez was elected president of Venezuela, and Iraq announced that it would shoot down any U.S. or British planes patrolling the country's no-fly zones, the Euro was established, and the Chinese government announced that it was restricting Internet usage.

Regardless of politics, this seemed to me a perfect example of how easy it is to lose our life in small things, to not see what actually is going on that matters.

I must engage fully with the cares of my particular life, but I must remember this is not the entirety of what God is up to in this universe, and it's not even, truly, the entirety of what He wants to do in my life.

Now, how to do this? I really, truly do not know... only, I believe strongly in that the idea of training our minds towards God.

But I'm a numbskull in these areas. Believe me. Still, I liked the illustration and since it was from Writer's Almanac I thought I could get away with posting it here.

Have a great day--

Saturday, September 12, 2009

So E. L. Konigsburg is my new chocolate

not that I gave up the original.

I just read The View from Saturday and I can say she is now in my top twenty list of favorite writers ever. This one had very similar themes and even in some ways a similar plot and characters to Jennifer, Hecate, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth. Very very smart and isolated, lonely young people who form secret bonds that involve a lot of cleverness and intriguing riddles and puzzles. So, I'll have to read more of her to find out if this is her little formula. It sure doesn't feel formulaic. The characters seem very alive and bright and they sing out their stories in a very organic way. I guess Marilynne Robinson's three novels all have some similarities, don't they? So do Charles Dickens' and Jane Austen's and Ha Jin's and Dostevesky's. (more of my top twenty).

Still, Konigsburg is utterly amazing and delightful and the added perk is the that they are written for a kid and so, I can consume and utterly enjoy them completely in a night or two.

Maybe she is the new gin and tonic. I have given them up, de facto.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Julie and Julia and all of us existentially angsted bloggers

We watched Julie and Julia last night. I thoroughly enjoyed it-- I especially enjoyed watching a movie in a theater with Jack. We hadn't done that in awhile. But the story-line really has me thinking.

We follow two stories-- one is Julia Child, in her 30s or 40s, I'd guess, in late 1940s Paris, where her husband works for the embassy and where she is trying to find something to channel her passion for life, her joy, and her love of food and France. She is indomitable (and Meryl Streep is quintessintially amazing), and she finds away to enter the Cordon Bleu cooking academy and then teams up with two French women to write a cookbook that had not yet existed-- a French cook book in English-- French Cooking for Americans.

The main story of the movie, though is the story of a 30 year old New Yorker in 2002, Julie, who has found herself in a life in Queens that is not the life she thought she should have. She had gone to school to be a writer, but she hadn't finished the book she started, and now she has this rather impotent government job. She finds plenty to be dissatisfied about--her small apartment, her friends, her job and most of all herself. But then she starts this project, cooking through all 500+ recipes of Julia Child's cookbook in one year, while blogging about it. As she undertakes this project, she finds a sense of purpose and accomplishment that she had not yet experienced. She also gets plenty of readers and fans of her blog and at the end of the year, she has acheived some actual fame and a book deal.

Now, it's a fun story. And really, it was hard to compete with Julia Child or Meryl Streep. They are two inimitable women. But I just came away with this impression that what this story really illustrated was the sad, trapped self-absorption of our generation. They acknowledged this within the movie. Julie started to have marriage troubles because she was so obsessed with herself and her little blogging project that this became all encompassing. And after her crisis, she seemed to become more aware of her husband and a little less caught up in her self- drama. But only a little.

The Julie character seemed like a very decent, talented and personable young woman--and also-- quite typical of my generation. What was her big acheivement? To say she had finished a goal she had set for herself. To become "a writer." To acheive some success-- a book deal, a movie deal, fans. But actually, she never did anything very far outside of herself, that wasn't primarily revolving around her.

But contrast this with Julia Childs--and there was such a difference. Certainly she didn't do anything very heroic or self-sacrificial--but still--it wasn't quite so self- absorbed. She wanted to make a cookbook so that Americans could learn how to cook the French food she loved. There was this was in love with the world around her. She and her husband were utterly delighted with each other. She didn't whine and fuss when her husband had to move them out of France, although she loved Paris. She had some bigger world to live out of than herself. And I don't know how she got that...except that it seemed like that was more the norm for her generation. (though she was certainly exceptional in her talents, her spirit and her personality).

And Julie is the norm for our generation, although perhaps exceptional in her talents. But this is the world all of us live in. I've experienced it myself. It isn't attractive to me. I don't want for me or my friends to simply set a goal and acheive it, to write a blog that gets recognized, to do something that makes us look good. I want us to make real good in this world. Real, genunine beauty. Real, true, life-giving good. Does anyone else see the difference? Does that make sense?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Book Recommendation

Who else loves a good young adult novel?? Actually, a lot of people, I guess, considering the popularity of those books about the orphaned wizard from the London suburbs--

I haven't read that much Harry Potter. He'll do in a pinch--I can think of worse flight reading, that's for sure.

But I just recently picked up a book from the library and it was so splendid, so cunning and delightful in this joyous, clever and understated way that I hadn't found in Rowling's work (to my memory and opinion and experience (all which are extraordiarily limited). )

The book was Jennife, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth by E. L. Konigsburg (it was her first novel, I think). And as the title suggests, it's a charming story about two girls-- the new girl, Elizabeth, and Jennifer, who claims to be a witch and makes Elizabeth her apprentice witch.

This isn't a fantasy book. The girls are witches the way that children usually are, through their cleverness and loneliness and will. And their friendship is tenuous and has ambivalence and longing and much joy and play, the way that friendships typically do.

The writing is skilled and smart and sweet. And... it's always nice that YA novels are easy and quick reads. I appreciate that these days.

Here's a little sample.

"The rest of that week seemed to have a month's worth of days, but Saturday came. It was a golden day full of the smells of autumn. I told my parents that I'd skip going grocery shopping with them. I told them that I had some work to do at the library. No argument. I was usually a nag for them to take to the A & P. I wasn't very popular at the A & P either. Once I had rammed the cart into a big mountain of cracker boxes. Avalanche! I told the manager that I'd pick them all up, and I did. I arranged them very aristically; the aisle was blocked for forty-five minutes. I hadn't been very popular at that A & P since.

When I got to the library reading room I knew Jennifer was already there. Her wagon was parked by the enclyclopedias. She was looking at a big book of maps when I came in. Libraries are for whispering, and I soon discovered that Jennifer whispered beautifully, with many nice sssssssss sounds coming like steam out of a kettle.

I whispered, "Hi."
She whispered back, "Did you bring something to eat?"
"No," I said. "A & P day. The cupboard was bare."
She closed the atlas and looked at mean for what seemed like a very long time. Leaning way over and in such a quiet voice that it was almost zero, she said, "I've decided to make you an apprentice witch."

"What do I have to do?" I asked.

"Answer 'yes' or 'no.'" I must have looked worried. She didn't let me waste time; she came across soft but fast. "If you really want to be a witch, nothing you have to do will seem like too much. If you really don't want to be a witch, everything will seem like too much. Answer ' yes' or 'no'"

I answered, "Yes."


I was going to check out more E. L. Konigsburg novels when I was at the library today, but I had reached my 30 book max. Those picture books add up fast. Especially, I have to say, when they are heavy on the dinosaur end of things. Thanks very much, to my dinosaur crazy nephen who hooked Luke. Now I have to try to pronounce all those crazy words. I need witch powers or something.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Not about poetry, but hey....

I hate justifying my actions. I really do. Here's a blog post that is purely, inexplicably personal. I guess I'm going with the strong guess that only Valerie and Carrie read my blog!

The time line for waiting for a baby from China is not growing shorte0r, but rather longer.

Now they are saying 28 months for those with Chinese descent and 41 months for non-Chinese descent families.

Two months down. At least 26 to go. Honestly, it stinks.

But also, I sometimes worry that I'll learn not to think about it. That I'll grow so tired of wanting her I'll just give up. Sometimes I wonder, what if we didn't want her after all this wait. I know that won't be true--but the reality is that we have to keep our hearts quickened with a love and desire and preparation for her, and that means we also have to keep our hearts somewhat raw with longing for her. We have to believe God is in on this--even in this extraordinarily long emptiness....

Is this how God loves us sometimes? Does he wait with sorrowful, impatient longing for us to be adopted into his family?

I don't suppose he ever worries he'll give up on his wait, does he?

I am praying that our family experiences God's grace in this and that he prepares us in all kinds of unseen ways for her to become part of our family.

Also, that he cares for her and her mother and father and any siblings in redemptive ways even now.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hopkin's Amazing Echoes

What is poetry? Poets love to discuss this. Which is telling in and of itself. Are painters or photographers or musicians asking--What is painting? what is a photograph? or what is music? Well, maybe.

But poetry is perhaps particularly tricky as an art form to nail down. For poetry is art made of language. As music is made of ordered sound-- and paintings of "ordered" paint....

I was thinking that three specific qualities of poetry.

First--this art made of language means that the language is to be irreducible, unpharaseable... unlike an essay or even a story that you could in some way retell, though probably losing much of the artistry and joy, you can't really retell a poem--it exists in its words--and cannot be separated from them.

Secondly--very related the first--the language becomes a kind of music--the sound is extremely important.

Third--also related, is that poetry contains in the language the unsayable--the magic of metaphor and image and the music of the language and the exact sensuosness of the imagery all combine to touch on things that are simply beyond "saying." -- Like music and dance and the visual arts.

So--having that as an introduction-- look at this poem in two parts by Gerard Manly Hopkins (my favorite poet). If I were unpoetic, which I usually am to an extreme (this is true), I would try to paraphrase this poem--write a little sermonette on it-- it surely has a profound and beautiful message--

but it also is simply a revel of language in itself--and that exists as art alongside and inseparable, in this case, from its message. I'm amazed at all the internal rhymes and the gorgeous sounds of this poem. It's so much fun--while being so amazingly serious, earnest and sincere. And simply more wonderful because both of these qualities are held together--that's why I love Hopkins and poetry.

36. The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo

(Maidens’ song from St. Winefred’s Well)


HOW to kéep—is there ány any, is there none such, nowhere known some, bow or brooch or braid or brace, láce, latch or catch or key to keep
Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty, … from vanishing away?
Ó is there no frowning of these wrinkles, rankéd wrinkles deep,
Dówn? no waving off of these most mournful messengers, still messengers, sad and stealing messengers of grey?
No there ’s none, there ’s none, O no there ’s none,
Nor can you long be, what you now are, called fair,
Do what you may do, what, do what you may,
And wisdom is early to despair:
Be beginning; since, no, nothing can be done
To keep at bay
Age and age’s evils, hoar hair,
Ruck and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death’s worst, winding sheets, tombs and worms and tumbling to decay;
So be beginning, be beginning to despair.
O there ’s none; no no no there ’s none:
Be beginning to despair, to despair,
Despair, despair, despair, despair.

There ís one, yes I have one (Hush there!);
Only not within seeing of the sun,
Not within the singeing of the strong sun,
Tall sun’s tingeing, or treacherous the tainting of the earth’s air,
Somewhere elsewhere there is ah well where! one,
Oné. Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,
Where whatever’s prized and passes of us, everything that ’s fresh and fast flying of us, seems to us sweet of us and swiftly away with, done away with, undone,
Undone, done with, soon done with, and yet dearly and dangerously sweet
Of us, the wimpled-water-dimpled, not-by-morning-matchèd face,
The flower of beauty, fleece of beauty, too too apt to, ah! to fleet,
Never fleets móre, fastened with the tenderest truth
To its own best being and its loveliness of youth: it is an everlastingness of, O it is an all youth!
Come then, your ways and airs and looks, locks, maiden gear, gallantry and gaiety and grace,
Winning ways, airs innocent, maiden manners, sweet looks, loose locks, long locks, lovelocks, gaygear, going gallant, girlgrace—
Resign them, sign them, seal them, send them, motion them with breath,
And with sighs soaring, soaring síghs deliver
Them; beauty-in-the-ghost, deliver it, early now, long before death
Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.
See; not a hair is, not an eyelash, not the least lash lost; every hair
Is, hair of the head, numbered.
Nay, what we had lighthanded left in surly the mere mould
Will have waked and have waxed and have walked with the wind what while we slept,
This side, that side hurling a heavyheaded hundredfold
What while we, while we slumbered.
O then, weary then why
When the thing we freely fórfeit is kept with fonder a care,
Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it, kept
Far with fonder a care (and we, we should have lost it) finer, fonder
A care kept.—Where kept? Do but tell us where kept, where.—
Yonder.—What high as that! We follow, now we follow.—Yonder, yes yonder, yonder,

Monday, July 20, 2009


This is blog-cheating, I'm sure. But Jacky directed me to this sweet blog by a poet, photographer and follower of Christ in London--and I enjoyed browsing it and thought others might as well.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

poetry class

I'm taking this poetry class-- and I thought that it would be a wonderful way for me to discipline myself and actually write poetry. I thought I would learn a lot more about writing poetry. I thought --

I think I thought I had a different life than the one I have. I think I thought I could have four or five simultaneous lives--and in one of them I could be the uber-slacker who writes blogs instead of doing her work, in another I could be a superstar poetry student who gets up at the crack of down and writes beautiful verse and in another I could be a half-way decent mother and a home economist/home maker/ cook, maid and candlestick maker...

But-- I am just all three of these things in sort of the same boring way i always was--with a lot of not so great poems being created right now.

Gotta go write one of those.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A nativity poem

Ok, this is sort of goofy--but I just encountered this poem that I loved-- and it's about the Nativity--when I was wanting to find Easter poems--

still, I loved it so much I wanted to have a record of it here. My word--I keep rereading it and rereading it and loving it more and more right now. I guess that's my prayer-- that the boy I love and that I too (and as many as want this) would have the grace to work and work on this question--"What is the world?"--and maybe to find, little by little... the "answered" experience written here...

(it's probably another illegal post. I don't know if this releases me from any guilt to say this. but i thought I would try).

Li-Young Lee

In the dark, a child might ask, What is the world?
just to hear his sister
promise, An unfinished wing of heaven,
just to hear his brother say,
A house inside a house,
but most of all to hear his mother answer,
One more song, then you go to sleep.
How could anyone in that bed guess
the question finds its beginning
in the answer long growing
inside the one who asked, that restless boy,
the night's darling?
Later, a man lying awake,
he might ask it again,
just to hear the silence
charge him, This night
arching over your sleepless wondering,
this night, the near ground
every reaching-out-to overreaches,
just to remind himself
out of what little earth and duration,
out of what immense good-bye,
each must make a safe place of his heart,
before so strange and wild a guest
as God approaches.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Same Valved Heart

Here's another Easter poem-- this one contemporary--by John Updike. I found it on this website ( which reprinted it by permission. I, however, do not have that same permission. -- no time to comment now, but I found it very helpful at challenging the softened, safe view our culture has tried to make of the resurrection (when the culture doesn't ignore or reject it outright).

Seven Stanzas at Easter
By John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;

if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent; it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Telephone Poles and Other Poems © 1961 by John Updike. Reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House Inc.

Monday, April 13, 2009


As a girl, Easter was always my favorite holiday. Finally I could feel again the sunshine and warmer air on skin that had been so long stuffed in sweaters and heavy coats, hats, mittens, scarves. Finally we could see more green grass than dirty snow and mud.

My mom almost always made the three sisters new flowery dresses (This now is absolutely astounding to me... !) She would be finishing the hems and we would be finding the last of the pins as we drove into church. (I can't imagine how exhausted she must have been.) We had new shiny black patent-leather shoes to snappily dance around in that day as we twirled in our new dresses and bonnets and ribbons. The earth and all of us in it felt lovely and pretty again.

And church was a pagent that day-- a huge show of smoke machines billowing smoke in front of a empty tomb, the deep bass music thundering through our bones, the orchestra and choir and that massive organ all pulling out all the stops.

Then we drove through the countryside to my grandparents farm and had an Easter egg hunt with our older cousins--outside! One of the first spring days we could comfortably play outside again--and in our prettiest dresses at that! And then we all ate that wonderful country feast-- the kind that leaves you helplessly exhausted, satistfied, delighted-- ham and grandma's perfect mashed potatoes and her beautiful pickled red-beet eggs, (and all the other pickled things) and new peas in cream and angel food cake iced with strawberry ice cream and I'm sure there was pie and her homemade balogna and on and on--food that I suppose I will eat again only after the Resurrection, when she can cook for me again.

I still love Easter--even though there is no way to completely recapture that beauty and joy that I experienced in every detail as a little girl--I try. I still dress myself and my son in the best clothes I can find, make my humble and meager approximation of Grandma's feast (pickled red-beet eggs and angel-food cake iced with strawberry ice-cream of course), I still revel in the energy and joy at the church service, and delight in the flowers and beauty of the creation this time of year.

And the truth is, that though I now spend my winters in California and spring comes right around Ash Wednesday here (as far as I can tell)--I am old enough to have a little better idea of what winters we can experience in our hearts. And though I haven't tasted much of death--I have tasted a little bit--and I think I know a little bit of the taste of the relentlessness of time and the hopelessness of my own striving against time and death and my own sin.

These days, I don't want so much of the pretty clothes at Easter as I want the hope that the story of this beautiful and awful world can come out right. I say I believe this, and I do. But I also see that it takes a certain "work" to enter in to this belief. Similar to all the work my mom and Grandmother and our church did to make Easter so special for us as children, I could give myself more fully to the work of recognizing and claiming Easter's hope in my life.

In his book, Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright suggested that if we spend forty days weeding the garden for Lent, we could give that much energy to the blooming and fruiting of that garden during Eastertide. Easter historically was a 50 day season, he reminds us, and for Christians, it defines our existence--the way we view history, this universe, and our own lives within its framework. So he says,

"In particular, if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought ot be a time to take things up..... Christian holiness was never meant to be a merely negative. OF course you have to weed the garden from time to time....that's Lent. ... Easter is a time to sow new seed and to plant out a few cuttings."

He suggests that we add something during this time that is self-giving and expanding to us--even if we can only do it for this season.

I love the idea--cause it sounds a lot more fun to me than the giving-up and weeding stuff. I love this idea--but I don't know what exactly to do--what should it look like. I'm no good at the fasting/ weeding-- and people have been teaching me about that for a few years now. So what about this planting??? What about, as Wendell Berry called it "practicing resurrection." How do I do that? I imagine there would be acts of service and worship involved. I imagine joining with God's creative works of justice and of beauty and goodness in this world.

Still, I'm very weak and unformed--so, just as I only gave up a few cups of coffee this Lent, I'm only planning a little experiment this Eastertide.

I thought I would take some time during this season to celebrate Easter on this blog--I wanted to post a poem --at least weekly.

So here's the first offering--for Easter-- by John Donne--- This is absolutely beautiful. May it sing to you!


Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so ;

For those, whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee do go,

Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.

Thou'rt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,

And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,

And better than thy stroke ; why swell'st thou then ?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,

And Death shall be no more ; Death, thou shalt die.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

church quote

I am reading a fascinating book by Paul Elie, The Life You Save May Be Your Own, that explores the seperate and connected stories of four Catholic writers-Dorothy Day, Flannery O'Connor, Thomas Merton and Walter Percy--in the first half of the 20th century. As I understand it, his thesis is that although they are mostly interpreted and understood and read as individuals -- they are better understood in connection and community with one another, as four individuals who both separately and as friends were engaged almost violent pilgrimage towards making their experience of religion enfleshed in the work they did as writers. (I could be way off on this thesis, since I am a chronically lazy reader and I've only read about a tenth of the book.)

Right now I want to remember this quote-- Elie is discussing Day's first return to the church as a socialist writer and dissaffected young wild woman in New York-- "...what she will seek in the Church, and find in the Church, is what each of them [the other three writers] will seek and find there: a place of pilgrimage, a home and a destination, where city and world meet, where the self encounters the other, where personal experience and the testimony of the ages can be reconciled."

This seems so meaty and wonderful and profound-- this is getting close to a deep enough picture of the church that it almost sounds right. This is a rigorous and beautiful enough description to sound like the truth to me.

I so often get extraordinarily critical of church--mostly because I tend to be contemptous of that which I'm closest too, and it's easier to criticize than engaging in thoughtful and compassionate and honest assessment of what really is going on from a sociological standpoint in this kind of an organization.... But as critical and contemptuous as I am, I am also completely enmeshed in the church. So that's kind of messy. Either I'm enmeshed because I am deluded and using it to fulfill unhealthy tendencies and dependencies in my psyche (and certainly, some of that--more than I know-- is true), or my critical eye is completely arrogant, self-deceived and unfounded contempt (and there's huge truth to this)...

But if I really believe the church is the agent of Life and Grace -- the meeting point between God and all of society--then I believe it is the best, most sensible place for all of my secular friends.

And I can't maintain this mixture of arrogant, stand-offish contempt and unhealthy, infantile dependency and expect my friends to be attracted to that. ...

But this view of the church as summarized by Elie seems close enough to the truth to be of service. I need to continually re-orient my vision so that I no longer entertain the thought of the church as some limp, weak, fantasy-ridden and non-intellectual hide-out for goofy people.

And here is this beautiful, fully-orbed, entirely healthy and robust viewpoint --
"a place of pilgrimage, a home and destination.... where the self encounters the other, where personal testimony and the testimony of the ages can be reconciled...."

As I said, this just sounds wonderfully right, true and good to me. This to me sounds like perhaps this is a part of what God intended and intends-- (I could be wrong, I'd like to understand more).

How grateful I am that these words came to me at this point in my life, when I had at least a tiny bit of an opening to hear them.

I am praying for my friends to come to know the church in this way. I pray I can come to know it in this way.

Wonderful Day

It's sunny today. I love the rain but it's so lovely to walk under that bright scrim of blue. And I have been having the most wonderful day.

After feeling so morose about my inability to pay attention, things shifted a bit. It's not that I'm not paying attention--as if I was a zombie or a robot-- I am actually acutely attentive-- -- It's only that my attention would better serve me (and God and those around me) if I were to shift its focus.

I know this is mostly semantics. But--I'm a poet and semantics are just about everything to me. How freeing it was to stop screaming at myself "JENNY, PAY ATTENTION," (with the rest of my internal tape saying all sorts of impatient, unkind and unhelpful words-- and instead to say, "Shift your attention. Look up. Look out. Look around." Ahhh. It must have been from God it brings me such profound joy and restfulness.

I felt like attention was this huge expensive necessity which I had not a single cent in cash reserves to pay. And then, it was as if God said-- "you have enough"

Unfortunately most of the time my attention is focused on figuring out how to protect myself from other people, how to hide away from other's attention and love and mostly their otherness-- how to get people to approve of or like me-- how to avoid God's loving gaze of goodness by working really hard at cooking all the world's internal judgment books so that I might fall on the right side--

I know this about myself-- it's one of my besetting sins-- but I just hadn't put it together with my inner cringing shame at the words: "pay attention."

This may make no sense. But it was a huge blessing to me. When I find myself (very often) self-involved and sidetracked by the old spin cycles I get on-- (one friend said, "Just think of yourself as a gutter-ball") I hear a word of grace --Shift your attention. Attend to other things right now. There's enough time for what is necessary.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pay Attention

Those words, pay attention, carry more emotional weight for me than any other words I can think of. They make me cringe and want to hide away. They make me want to give it all up and drink poison.

If my sisters read this blog, they'll be laughing just at the title. Because this was the mantra of a certain parent of mine to me practically every day, possibly every waking hour of my life as an older child. I am HORRIBLE at paying attention, and it is a very bad character trait, I promise you I know that.

As evidence I could provide cupboards full of broken dishes, a whole atlas full of wrong turns, calendars rife with forgotten appointments, a banquet of ruined cooking. Beyond all this, the worst consquence of my inability to give up on my self-absorbed maundering obsessions--a lifetime of many profoundly stunted and damaged or simply altogether missed opportunities to love and know the amazing people who surround me.

And when i decide ok, this time, i'm really going to be different, i really will pay attention every waking moment, I have no freaking idea how to even begin to do this. To even begin to slow down to the degree necessary--it feels like I'm walking in slow motion through a tight tunnel filled with sharp pointy things. I go back to wanting to drink poison.

And yet I find when I am around someone who is attentive, in any way, I am profoundly blessed. If I can slow down enough to watch how other people --those attentive ones--- wash dishes, chop carrots, shop for vegetables, interact with children, listen to their friends -- it's amazing to me. I feel like I'm in the presence of some kind of grace I would give almost anything to experience. But even these words feel like I'm lying to you all. I don't know if I have ever slowed down enough in real time to actually attend to anything as it is happening-- i'm always processing after the fact--(meaning that I'm always a few steps behind--meaning I'm never paying attention in the moment i'm actually in)... Still, I realize after the fact that I have been around some people who live life in a more alive, present, unhurried, attentive manner. And the realization -- it moves me from wanting to drink poison to longing to partake in this world, this grace they seem to have access to that I have never experienced.

Jesus says, "only one thing is necessary," to Martha. Sometimes I wonder if that was what he was talking about--all you need is to choose one thing-- and that one thing, that one choice, listening to him, becoming alive to his word--perhaps that is attention. Why wouldn't I pay everything to get this?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Into the Wild and how stories unfold

We watched Into the Wild this weekend. Jack had picked it out, and I was very excited because I read the book twelve years ago, when I was living in South Korea, and remembered enjoying it a lot. I was not dissappointed. The movie, directed by Sean Penn, was wonderful and I was very moved.

It's a fascinating and true story of this incredibly wounded and senstive and beautiful and intense young man, Christopher McCandless, who tries to lose all the ties to society--to immerse himself in utter isolation in the wilds of Alaska, in his attempt to purge himself of the pain and woundedness of his family life and the ugliness of this worlds' systems. It's a true story, and tragically, McCandless died because of that isolation that he so craved.

He was an amazingly compelling character--he had this luminous beauty about him, as if he was really too beautiful, too pure, too "good" for this broken world--and it was if he just broke in the face of it. All the time, I kept thinking how deeply I wished he could have known Christ--how he craved Christ, it seemed to me. I hope that this helps me look at those around me differently. You meet those people, sometimes,--actually, I suspect far more often than we realize--the ones who are breaking on the wheel of this world, their own pure beauty (or as Lewis says, the weight of their glory) too much for even them to bear. But it's very hard to spot most of them-- I think.

The other thing this movie did for me was a grace-filled little tying up of a few loose threads in my life. I called my mom the day after I watched it (cause I always call her on Saturdays) and I was telling her about how moved I had been by the movie. I reminded her that she was actually the one who sent me that book when I was living in Korea, right after I graduated from college. She hadn't read it though...and my discussion with her didn't go that far, because it's usually not that enjoyable for a listener to hear all about a movie you just watched and they haven't seen. (Talk about an act of patient love on her part!)

But after I got off the phone with her, I reflected to Jack, "Hmmm, it's sort of interesting. She sent that book to me when I was in Korea. Me being there, to her it must have felt a little bit like i was in the wild. ..That venture of mine, it was just a little bit like Christopher's journey."

And Jack, with not uncommon but still surprising clarity, said, "It was more than just a little bit like that..."

He was right. In many ways I did venture into a deep and profound kind of isolation there, one I had long cultivated. And in many ways I was motivated by a strange and unhealthy and intense bitterness and frustration with everything in my history.

Honestly, without filling in any details, I came to self-destructing there in Korea.

I think I got a little more aware of how hard that must have been for my mom and dad.

But there are some profound differences, by grace, in my story.

One big difference is that I'm not much like that beautiful man. I am not that pure-hearted or beautiful and intense in spirit. Not at all...

Secondly, I did encounter Christ in that isolation. And then I wasn't alone. And all the days since that time have been a steady movement away from isolation (with some occasional months and years--including some very recent years--of self-absorbed backtracking) .

Recently, in the past year or so, by grace I have moved away from that old hurt and bitterness and shame and frustration that I had so cherished. My parents were nothing like McCandless's-- but I wanted someone to bear the responsibility for the messy feelings I had, for my loneliness (and I didn't want it to be me!) ... but now I feel only profound gratitude for the particular and wonderful and fascinating parents which I have. It's the same with my feelings about my extended family, the schooling I received, the friends I had, the tiny towns and midwestern culture where I grew up, the particular imperfect and sincere church I grew up in... All places where I poured out my contempt. But the truth is, they were all God's wonderful provision for me.... and they were beautiful and good in very real and specific and amazing ways.

I have some pretty intense sorrow that I used all that shame and frustration and bitterness as a way to keep the same controlling and selfish behaviour patterns for so many years.

But more than that, I feel grateful. In my own, far less dramatic way, I surely could have been another Christopher McCandless. We all could get lost forever in unforgiveness or in shame or in selfishness or in distorted ideas about ourselves and this world.

And again I come back to wanting to learn to move away from those old habituated sins of control that keep me in self-absorption and isolation-- because of the Christophers in the world, so that perhaps more of them could know Jesus.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


I recently watched an incredibly fascinating online video that speaks with great clarity and eloquence about the issues of consumption and justice and sustainability inherent in our current economic model and American/world lifestyle.

The video is and I would really recommend it to anyone who has ever purchased anything.

Every part of it was eye-opening, but there was one quote that just rocked me to the core. The video explained how we have become a nation of consumers, starting in the 50s, we determined to become a people who got all our identity from consuming. They quoted an economist, Victor Lebeau, who articulated this vision before it came about so perfectly....

He said, "Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption of goods our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction in consumption."

Just reread that quote a couple of times, please, and ponder it. Give some thought to this culture we find ourselves in. This quote seems to me to very much sum up what is true in our culture.
It's incredible to me that this was articulated with such prescience--- and now... how we entertain ourselves, how we think about our time, how we think about our community relationships, how we think about our church, how we think about where we live, our jobs, our relationships-- all of these have become twisted and affected deeply by our identity as consumers and addiction to consumption.

I'm still stuck on the fact that people planned this for us. It didn't just happen. It was intentional. I feel like I am seeing something almost as diabolical as some of the quotes and stated intentions of Hilter and Stalin here. I have this sense that there was real demonic power involved.

I don't want to say this to be over emotional, reactive, and overly excited. But when I read that quote it was like a little epiphany for me.

I hear the words of Jesus in gentle, loving, and diametric opposition== "I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly." and I want desperately to join in with Paul in warfare against these demonic plans that have brought God's beloved people into such bondage that we have found our spiritual, ritualistic and ego worth only in consumption.

These words ring in my mind... "We destroy arguments and every pround obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God. And we take every thought captive to obey Christ."

I want to join in a warfare for a new word about our culture...

that we will not be first consumers but rather first, in submission to Christ, creators and redemption lovers and justice-bringers and light-bearers and joy revelers....

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Universe Next Door

I just completed a read of the book, The Universe Next Door by James W. Sire. It's a "catalog" of different worldviews, from the perspective of the theistic (and evangelical Christian) worldview.

I was surprised, a bit, by how fascinating and helpful and new the information in this book was to me. It's very well-written, and fairly indepth in an overview sort of way.

What surprised me most was how many thoughts, questions and "worldview" issues I had. I had thought I was struggling with questions so unique and personal. But many times what I thought I was original and exceptional in my doubts and internal struggles was mostly, perhaps entirely, influenced by a conflicting worldview and system of thought. This was very good to realize because and examine. Over and over I found, with some embarrassment and much relief, that all that seemed so convincing and brave and compelling in the shadows--so much of existentialism or eastern philosophies or even post-modernism--became much less attractive under scrutiny.

When I started to examine these stances and their conclusions--realizing they weren't in any way unique or special to me-- then I could see their inherent problems, inconsistencies, and realize again and again that I choose faith in Christ, and faith in a transcendent, personal God as the way most consistent and fulfilling and truth affirming.

I also could see more clearly what was influencing the viewpoints of my friends and colleagues. This is helpful, so that once again I can be aware of how that attracts me and also, so that, by God's grace, I can be of some service to them in perhaps scrutinizing their own worldviews, if that is of interest to them.

The writer was very artistically aware--he quoted poetry throughout. This appealed to me, of course. One thing he said about the nihilistic worldview really stood out:

"The twist is this: (he's speaking about how many artists with a nilistic viewpoint have tried to express nihilism in their art). To the extent that these art works display the human implication of a nihilistic view, they are not nihilistic; to the extent they themselves are meaningless, they are not art works.

Art is nothing if not formal, that is, endowed with structure by the artist. But structure itself implies meaning. So to the extent that an art work has structure, it has meaning and thus is not nihilistic."

Thursday, January 8, 2009

In which I share some more poems published and muse a bit on the label "religious..."

I had some more poetry published in the Sacramento Poetry Center's publication, Poetry Now. This is a very small, local publication, but it's still a little charge to see my poems in print. You can download a copy by following this link:

Both of the poems published here have a little bit of a Christian worldview expressed, which is to be expected (hopefully, though, sometimes-- usually between 5-9 p.m-- there's not much Christian worldview being expressed by me at all).

They wouldn't qualify as devotional reading or Bible study material, still, you can see if you read the poems that I mention the Bible in one and prayer in another. And like I said, it's somewhat to be expected. I honestly think about the Bible a lot and I think about prayer too. (Do I follow the Bible consistently? do I pray more than I talk about praying? These are different questions.)

The other night at poetry workshop I brought in a poem that talked about an experience at a Communion service in extremely Christian terms, and it also described the Resurrection of Christ.

No getting around it, the point of view in that poem was Christian. Which is admittedly a relief to me.

So, why did I rankle when one of my fellow poets labelled it a religious poem?

He was very honest in saying that some of the poem was more accessible to him than other parts, and the part that was less accessible was the stanza imagining the ressurrection. I think he very generously and fairly owned his own cultural bias against religion was making it harder for him to appreciate the poem.

Still the whole experience frustrated and annoyed me. I'm not sure all the reasons why, but I think most of them are not so good.

C.S. Lewis's fiction is religious fiction, so is Flannery O'Connor's. Hopkins and Herbert wrote religious poetry, didn't they? Michealangelo painted religious art. Handel's Messiah is a religious piece of music. I would be over the moon, ego-filled, out of touch with reality and dangerously giddy with pride if I ever thought my art deserved to be compared to these artists--still, they are evidence that religious content does not mean unartistic or less artistically excellent.

I'll probably explore this a lot more later. I have to go wash dishes now.
Right now where I'm at is that I am going to have to make peace with the fact that my poetry is going to be called "religious" poetry by almost everyone who reads it. At least, everyone who is not immersed in my worldview.
Latero and with much affection,

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A late Epiphany

Talking to Valerie reminded me that I had long intended to post this poem for Epiphany when it came and there it was gone so quickly. Epiphany really comes much faster than Christmas...

I very much love the idea of thinking of Epiphany as the revelation of Christ to the whole world. But I don't have much sense of how to think about it or enter into it...

Here's this wonderful T. S. Eliot poem.

With affection, Jenny

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times when we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wineskins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Blogging idea

I recently started reading the funny, lively blog of another mom and fellow Oakhillian --

She's very gifted as writer and in many other capacities, and she has a wonderfully fun voice, and I enjoy getting to know her just a little bit in this way. She recently completed a year of blogging every single day--365 entries.

My thought, after the initial--no thank you, I resist obligations of all sorts-- was that this small discipline would help a person get the writing juices flowing. It would be like journalling, in a way, with the added ingredient of a possible audience.

Jennifer said as much--that her writing voice was strengthened and developed through the experience, which she also said she didn't intend to repeat.

I won't be writing here every day, but perhaps I will treat it a bit more like a writing journal or writing prompter spot-- I would also like to encourage other writers to find "tricks"--places, audiences, disciplines, classes, exercises, groups, etc. to get them writing.

Let me know if you are trying any this year.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

Happy New Year.

For your present-- here's a poem by Richard Wilbur --Love Calls us to the Things of This World--

This poem is (in part) about waking up-- that slow, wonderful and reluctant way we enter another morning--

The first line --

"The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn. "

Here we are waking into another year-- enjoy the poetry.