Friday, February 3, 2012

Candlemas Inspirations and the Question of Being a "Religious Poet"

So, the groundhog saw his shadow yesterday.  Many of us are saying, "Six more weeks of winter?  We haven't had much winter yet."

Still, this time of year can be difficult for many of us.  The days are getting longer, but the shift is still barely perceptible.  Most of us are still driving home from work at dusk.  We're still months away from light-filled evenings.

If you need a boost, I'd recommend this post by Christine Valters Paintner.  She reminds us:  "In the northern hemisphere the time around February 1-2 is a potent time. On the Celtic wheel of the year it is Imbolc (meaning 'in the belly' and also refers to the lactation of the ewes), which is one of the cross-quarter days falling between the Solstice and the Equinox. Imbolc marks the first day of spring in Ireland, the time when the very beginning of earth's stirrings and awakenings from winter can be witnessed. As the days slowly lengthen and the sun makes her way higher in the sky, the ground beneath our feet begins to thaw. The earth's belly softens and the seeds deep below slowly rumble in the darkness. New life is getting ready to sprout forth."

She gives us some questions, along with a guided meditation, to help us discern what we might hope to germinate during this time.

I've been thinking of requiring a bit more of myself on the poem composition front.  I've been doing a fairly good job at writing one poem a week and actually working with it until it is finished, at least for the time being.  This post by Rachel Barenblat has made me think about doing more, with more discipline.

She writes about feedback she got as an MFA student:  "One of my poetry teachers noted that my best poems were frequently the Jewish ones, and urged me to try writing psalms and prayers. At the time, I didn't know the psalms well enough to really engage with that task, and I wasn't entirely comfortable with my own prayer life (or lack thereof) so writing prayers seemed implausible. So I filed the suggestion away for another day. But I couldn't seem to shake the idea -- or the growing desire to figure out how and whether I could use poetry to engage with Judaism in my own way."

She eventually went on to become a rabbi, a move that might have surprised her MFA self.  She writes about thinking of herself as a religious poet:  "I quail a bit at the term, because it so immediately suggests to me someone who writes the kind of saccharine devotional verse one might find on a cheesy greeting card. And yet there's no arguing with the fact that I am both religious (by my own lights, anyway) and a poet, and that my poetry often arises out of or wrestles with my experience of religious life."

She also writes about writing a response to each week's Torah reading, a response which early on manifested itself as a poem.  She has continued to write a poem a week in response to the Torah.

As a Lutheran, I'm part of a religious tradition that has a set of readings from the Bible each day and each week, a common lectionary used by many Christians.  I've been writing a weekly meditation on the Gospel.  It never occurred to me to write a poem.

Sure, I'd occasionally find inspiration from one of the readings and follow it where it led.  But what will happen if I approach this process more intentionally?

The Gospel reading for this Sunday (Mark 1:29-39) has Jesus healing Simon Peter's mother-in-law, who immediately gets up from her sickbed to make a meal.  There's plenty of inspiration there.  One of the early disciples has a mother-in-law?  Where is the wife who presupposes mother-in-law?  And the sick woman gets up to make a meal?  What's that about?

Some of you might say that it just shows that some things never change, that woman will get up from their sickbeds, even when they're burning with fever, to do things for the family, like cooking dinner or doing the laundry.

Some of us might aks "What's the story behind all that busyness?"

And some of us might write a poem!

And for those of you mourning the death of Wislawa Szymborska and/or needing to read some great poems of hers, I highly recommend this post by Beth Adams and this post by John Z. Guzlowski.

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