Before Steve and I head into training for Old World Wisconsin and a work schedule that would prevent us from putting two days off together, we’re going to hit the road and go camping. So, I’m not going to do a blog post for a few days, and I’m going to fall behind in the National Poetry Writing Month challenge. But, I forgive myself. I’m sure you forgive me, too. Today’s prompt is to write a persona poem from the point of view of someone you’re not and write in his/her voice, rather like a dramatic monologue. Here is an excellent example by Rita Dove. To tell you the truth, my energy is elsewhere, so I’m choosing not to write poetry today. Instead, I will include a persona poem I wrote some 15 years ago.
Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52)
Darkness, like a raging blight, poisons hope and shrouds my sight.
In the dusty, dusky road I lie beside my begging bowl,
Ambushed by the thundering tread of hoof and sole, despair and dread.
Battered, splattered, nothing matters. In this flesh, I’m all but dead.
From a distance comes a cry: “Make way! Jesus is passing by!”
Drowning in my grievous dark, I catch hold of this floating spark
In desperate effort to be freed from hellish want and brutal need.
Hoarse and urgent comes my plea: “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
With a roar, embarrassed scorn swallows the voice of poverty.
Indignation urges me in frantic hope, “Lord, pity me!”
As the torrent cracks the clouds and floods the land with rain,
My sorrow swells and pelts the air in uncontrolled refrain:
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy! Jesus, Lord, have mercy, please!”
A strong, brusque arm lays hold of me and pulls me to my feet.
“Bring that man to me,” I hear. I tremble and I weep.
Then, suddenly, the air is still. A wide, warm presence calms me.
A voice so close it sounds within and penetrates the dark and din addresses me:
“What do you want? What may I do for you?”
I strain toward him; would I behold salvation prophets have foretold
Were he not obscured by evil night? “I want to see!” “Receive your sight.”
His breath surrounds my clouded eyes.
The damning dark is pierced by light. I fall to kiss his feet, then rise.
“Your faith has healed you. Follow me.”
“My Lord, I will, for now I see.”
Hallelujahs all around! An all-inclusive Glory Be! Mendelssohn and Rimsky-Korsikov festival music with timpani and brass at breakfast. It feels great to be alive, any day! My Easter-oriented upbringing is always in the background, even though I’m facing Eastern lately. May JOY be universal, however you find it.
Today’s poetry prompt for NaPoWriMo was simply to go outside with a notebook and perhaps a camera and write a poem. So I did. I didn’t go any further than 4 steps beyond my porch stairs, sat down beneath the maple tree, and opened up. Miracles are all around.
Glorious ordinary wholly happy day
Treasure-hunting among the obvious
I shall not be in want
Fresh dandelions, wind-blown chimes
Bacon, my kitchen incense
Strawberries’ radiant red miracle
Greenery below, above; and vaulted space
A sanctuary innocent, unstained by shame
I call it Life.
Today is a good day to ponder the sacred, to feel that aching quiet deep below the surface, to stay with it long enough to taste its bitter and its sweet. Whatever form that takes. I have spent years wrapped in one particular expression of that endeavor, but today, I tried a new one. The NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) prompt for the day was a challenge to write a poem about an animal. I knew immediately what animal that had to be for me: an animal that I’ve admired in different stages of my development, from my earliest memories to the present day. One of my earliest posts was devoted to this animal, entitled “Nature’s great masterpeece…the only harmlesse great thing – John Donne”. As I closed my eyes, opened my heart, and began to brainstorm various words and phrases, I realized that I was indeed pondering the sacred. In order to invite you into that relationship, without influencing you too much, I will end my narrative here and simply share the photo and poem that arose and offer them as icons to stimulate your own thoughts.
Her skin was visible from outer space
criss-crossed trails in the dry expanse
seismic sections of caked mud
pulsing with the rhythm of the magma core.
She walked as continental plates on tip-toe
shuffling through the sanctuary of time
in ponderous planetary procession
chanting sighs that shook the stars.
She raised her tender tip
a stroking, soothing, searching spirit
a whisper enfleshed, intuitive, inquisitive
and opened her sky portals, fringed with boughs
so heaven could gaze freely down.
Her wisdom reigned in sacred skull,
the holy archways gleaming
until her desecration reduced
to catacombs of dripping blood
that mammoth cathedral.
The matriarchs lie raped in heaps
across the countryside.
No longer shall we place our heads
on gentle, heaving breasts to feel
the wide embrace of a universe.
Sunday morning, a sunny Spring day. Oatmeal with honey and dried cranberries, orange juice, chai tea. Grab my camera and take a walk. Come along! We got some rain the past two days. Now the colors are so bright!
Steve and I got into another “relationship talk”. The sun was shadowed by a passing cloud, and I saw this lone female duck, head tucked under her wing, standing on one leg. At that moment, my soul was hiding and this seemed like the perfect illustration.
We passed a church where families with well-dressed children crossed from their cars into the open doors. I remember getting myself and four children up and dressed tidily and bundled off to choir and Sunday school week after week. I miss the expectation of meeting people, the habit of seeing and being seen. I don’t miss the bickering between the kids, the passive teenaged resistance. I do miss the bagels and lox and chocolate croissants. I definitely miss the singing.
Junctions. Life paths, habits, structures, changing, evolving, maintained and unkempt.
Useful and interesting, I suppose, but I really want to be graceful, too.
I suppose my biggest fear is that I am neither useful nor graceful.
There’s another way to think of myself, though. Instead of the Western idea of being an artifact, something made by a Maker, I could adopt the Eastern way and imagine myself as something grown and growing.
Thinking, pondering, musing on my self, my vision, my viewpoint, my place in the vast universe. Steve grabs the camera from me and shows me his vision. It’s different from mine. I think it’s kind of Zen, kind of quirky. Very Steve.
I’m back home, sharing my thoughts with a congregation of bloggers. Did anyone bring bagels?
When I hung around with evangelical Christians, I would frequently hear this phrase: “be in right relationship with”. That was a core value in life. I agreed then, and I still agree in some ways. I very much resonate with the value of relationships. I am “a lover” by temperament, so to speak, and being engaged with the universe is supremely important to me. I also have a huge desire to be “right”, but that is exactly the thing I’m now trying to dismantle. I was a compliant kid. I was afraid of my father and of all authority. I wanted to be “good” and “correct” because I wanted to be praised instead of punished! Now, I find that being “right” is not all that great of a goal. First of all, it can lead you to be self-righteous and judgmental. Second, how do you even know what is “right”? Is it “right” to do everything an authority tells you to? What if that authority tells you to harm someone else? See, it gets tricky. How about if I just say that I want to have a good relationship with everything? I think that covers it pretty well.
One relationship that I am really working to improve is my relationship with God and Christianity. It has gone through a huge change in the last few years, one that has many of my friends scratching their heads. Some of them are downright disappointed in the change and have told me so. Some have just stopped communicating with me. I am most in awe of those who are openly listening, talking, challenging, and engaging with me as I rework my theology and practice. Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. Instead of going to Church, getting ashes imposed on my forehead, and beginning a 40-day penitential practice (which is an indication of how I participated in that relationship for 47 years), Steve & I finished reading T.S. Eliot’s poem named for the day and discussed post-modern cynicism. Despite Eliot’s conversion, he doesn’t seem very enthusiastic about life. This morning, we had breakfast with his Aunt and talked about her church experiences with fasting and confession and Bible study. Today, I got another e-mail from an old friend who is willing to discuss my journey and walk with me in it. I’ve known this person since I was about 12 and she was 17. Replying to her became my top writing priority for the day. So, I’ve decided to use that material for my post today. First, a photo or two to open the mind:
My thoughts for today:
I feel like I have a continual discourse going on in my brain about my relationship with Jesus and the Church. On any given day, other people enter that conversation and keep it going. At breakfast, it was Steve & his Aunt Rosie. As we walked to the library, it was just Steve. Now you’ve entered the discussion. Welcome! Come, have a place on the panel!
The Church. So much of it is about the social aspect. Sometimes it acts like a group of people who are all friendly, who share affinities, who enjoy being together and taking care of each other. Seems there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m sure that’s not all Jesus meant the Church to be. What happens when that group disbands, moves away or dies off? Kind of like your Presbyterian congregation. Or what happens when that group gets visited by people whom they don’t care for? People of a different kind who don’t fit into their social circle? How do they behave? Is that what Christianity is about? There is so much intolerance, so much judgment, so much exclusion, that it just seems to represent the worst of society as well.
Theology & Philosophy. The Church getting down to what it actually believes about the universe. And why. I was taught by my Episcopal parents that there are 3 legs on the stool supporting what they believe: Scripture, Tradition and Reason. My dad held up the Reason leg when he talked about Science. In the face of overwhelming evidence about evolution, for example, there’s no need to dismiss it. It can be worked in with the other legs. Scripture is about the story of human life, the salvation story, the emotional story, the behavioral story. But it’s still a story, a Myth. It is about Truth, but it isn’t literally true. I don’t think it’s “true” that we are all sinners, or that we are all fundamentally separate from each other. If you look at the biological universe, we are all very much interconnected. I don’t know if there’s any evidence to prove that a historical Jesus even existed, much less that he was resurrected from the dead and will come again. I still love Jesus’ teaching, whether he’s fiction or fact. I love how he goes straight to the religious teachers of the day and preaches in their faces about how they have undermined values like compassion, inclusion, humility, spirituality, and forgiveness. I think if it were possible for him to reappear in the US today, he would go straight to the Conservative Republican Christian Right and do the same thing! Tradition seems to be aimed at behavior, how we live together. The thing that is so tricky about behavior is that it needs to change, it needs to be responsive and responsible. Most people think that Tradition is about keeping things the same. I think that keeping core values is a good thing, but the way they are expressed should be flexible.
The thing I miss most about The Church is choir! Singing! And I have always loved Gospel more than classical, deep down. Yesterday, Steve put on a new CD; I immediately recognized Odetta’s guitar and voice and purred with delight. He laughed and said, “Priscilla wants to be a big, black woman!” It’s so true! I love the soul, the familiarity with humanity and suffering and the confidence. I don’t want to be brainwashed or shamed or coerced by guilt. I want to be free and respected for what I am. And what am I? A white Anglo, in part. But I am partly a big, black woman as well because we are all connected here on earth.
Anyway, that’s where the dialogue has me today. I want to tell you again how much I appreciate you taking the time to engage with me in this part of my journey. It means a lot. I really get turned off by the tendency, especially in politics, for people to circle the wagons or form a fortress from which to sling rhetoric while refusing to actually come out peacefully and discuss something. You know what I mean? And the media just makes the whole situation worse, little Tweets & comments here and there but no real engagement. Thanks for being willing to be real, to put your story and your thoughts and your experiences in writing and listen to mine as well. I respect you for that. I think that’s how Jesus was, too. I think of the stories in the Gospel of John especially, of conversations with Samaritans, women, disciples, beggars, and Pharisees. He didn’t just knock off a sound bite for the media and move on. And as much as anyone stayed to hear more, he kept interacting. What a great example!