Friday, March 5, 2021

When Your Poem Becomes Theology

I have spent the morning wrestling with fabric imagery.  I thought that I was working on a poem, but I ended up with a piece of theology.

Last week, I had this line float through my head:  "The future speaks in threads."  I immediately wondered what kind of threads--threads from a larger garment that was coming apart?  If so, who yanked on the thread?  The thread of seams?  Seams holding together or fraying apart?  And I thought of threads that lead us out of mazes, like in that ancient story from the Greeks.  I wrote a few stanzas of a poem, but I'm not sure I like it.

On Sunday, I wrote down this line:  "The future speaks to us in widow's weeds."  I played with that image, but not much came.  I went back to the thread imagery of last week and wrote another stanza.  I remembered using some thread imagery in one of my morning watch broadcasts, so I went back to listen.

I was expecting poetry inspiration, but instead I got theology inspiration.  If you'd like to read that piece of writing, see this post on my theology blog.  It asks how we might behave if we believed we were part of the quilt making team of God, the team that's making a giant quilt of creation.

Maybe I need to do more research about widow's weeds.  Maybe that will give me what I need for the poem.  Maybe the third time will be the charm.

Or maybe it doesn't matter if the poem never takes shape.  I'm really happy with the piece of theology.  It's an unexpected, but delightful, surprise on this first Friday of March.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Being Well-Read in the Twenty-first Century

This morning, I read a review of Kazuo Ishiguro's latest novel, and it gave me pause, as these book reviews often do.  I always feel a bit abashed at how few of these important novelists I'm reading--he's a Nobel laureate, after all.  And then there's a moment when I do a Google search and read the Wikipedia article--which books am I feeling bad about not reading?

And then there's a moment of further self-castigation:  I haven't even seen the movies of the very important books!

I try to remember the names of other authors whom I haven't read, and I spend a bit more time in Googling and remembering and trying to convince myself that I'm more well-read than I'm giving myself credit for.  I think of my grad school days and trying to figure out how I would ever catch up with 20th century British Lit, one of the fields I studied intensely.  And now I'm further behind.

Oh, let's be honest.  I'm not going to catch up--to say I'm behind implies I will even try.  And I won't.  I wish I could say that I'm not catching up because I'm maintaining my expert status elsewhere, but that's not true either.

These days, I have a serendipitous approach to my reading life.  I just finished a fabulous book about Athens, Georgia in the 1970's and 80's, and how it became so influential in the world of pop and rock music:  Grace Elizabeth Hale's Cool Town: How Athens, Georgia, Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.  It was not only a deep dive into one town and into bands I loved once (but don't really listen to these days), but also a meditation on how to be an artist and how to stay true to that calling.

While I don't want to deny myself the treat of serendipitous finds like that one, perhaps it is time to be more intentional.  I remember back in high school when I was worried I would get to college and be unprepared.  I thought my high school wasn't requiring enough of the classic, so I took it upon myself to read more.  For every 2 books I read for pleasure, I required myself to read one of the great books.  They tended to be 19th century classics from England and the U.S., white, and male.  That's how we defined classics in the 1980's. 

Perhaps it's time to try some self-improvement via reading again.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Last In-Person AWP

A year ago today, I'd have been zipping my suitcase and getting ready to go to the airport.  I was headed to San Antonio for the AWP conference.  I had heard rumors of possible cancellation of the whole conference, but by the time I left, there had been an e-mail that said that the conference would proceed.  I knew that I would pay for 2 nights of the hotel whether I was there or not, so I had already decided to go, even if the conference was cancelled.

I remember thinking that cancelling the conference was an absurd response, but by the end of the week, the South by Southwest festival had been cancelled.  Of course, that decision was made weeks before the actual event, unlike the discussion about cancelling AWP.  At the airport, I only saw 6 people with masks, which contributed to my sense of different realities colliding.  Was this virus such a threat that a whole conference should be cancelled?

As it turns out, yes, it was.  As far as I know, the AWP wasn't a super spreader event, like Mardi Gras, but that's just dumb luck.  

I had decided on an early flight, so I got to the hotel by noon and was able to check in early.  I spent the afternoon in a lovely hotel room with a great view of San Antonio.  I was grading papers, but also keeping an eye on social media, and I watched various people I knew decide not to come to the conference.  But I still wasn't worried about my own safety.

As I look back, I'm glad I went to San Antonio.  In fact, if I could tell year ago Kristin anything, it would be to live it up a bit more, but I'm not sure what that would look like, even as I type those words.  More tableside guacamole? Taking a cab down to the mission historic sites instead of walking? More alcohol? Having more than 1 fancy coffee drink each morning?

I decided not to do the virtual AWP this year.  I thought about it, but I know that I'm pretty Zoomed out these days.  I knew that I wouldn't want to take vacation days, so I also knew it was likely that I wouldn't get my money's worth, since I would be balancing AWP and work.

My hope throughout all of this upheaval is that we hold onto some of these more inclusive ways of doing events.  For a long time, AWP was resistant to letting participants Zoom in, if they couldn't attend in person.  Last year, I saw more than one panel with a long distance participant.  And this year, we've got a conference that more people can attend:  it's cheaper, it can be integrated with non-academic work lives, people with family duties can attend.

Yes, I hope we hold onto these developments.


Tuesday, March 2, 2021

The Wisdom of Merrick Garland and the Highest, Best Use of Skills

I was struck by a snippet of Merrick Garland speaking at his confirmation hearing last week.  Senator Cory Booker asked him to conclude by explaining why he wants to be the Attorney General of the United States.

Garland said, “I come from a family where my grandparents fled antisemitism and persecution.”  And then he paused, and then continued, with a choking voice:  "The country took us in and protected us. And I feel an obligation to the country, to pay back.”

I took a moment to say a prayer of thanks that we're once again hearing from people who believe that they have a duty to serve in this way:  a duty to country, a duty to pay back, a duty to pave the way for others. We so often hear from people who are only interested in their own well being, and that approach can be so ruinous.

What he said next intrigued me too:  “This is the highest, best use of my one set of skills.  And so I want very much to be the kind of attorney general you’re saying I could be.”

I love the idea of finding a way to the highest, best use of a skill set.  Now I think that Merrick Garland probably has more than just this one set of skills.  But I'm so happy that he's willing to use them in this way, for the good of the country, for the good of us all.  

After what happened when he was nominated to be a Supreme Court justice and wasn't allowed a hearing by Senate leaders, I would understand if he never wanted to be nominated for anything again.  I'm glad that he didn't take that approach.  I'm glad that he's willing to serve in a variety of ways.

There's a lesson here for all of us.  

Monday, March 1, 2021

Sacraments in Our Hair

Yesterday morning, I made this Facebook post:

"With bread dough in my hair*, I'm headed to church to offer drive through communion. If you're in SE Florida, come on by! (Trinity Lutheran, corner of Pines and 72nd, across from Broward College.

*yes, literal bread dough--I've been baking and the morning has zoomed ahead of me--the sacraments don't need me to take another shower, and I like the symbolism of bread dough in my hair, sacraments in my hand.

I've been baking bread for personal use, not for communion. No one need worry about finding my hair in their sacrament."

I spent the rest of the day thinking about these images--bread dough, sacrament, the way that sacrament becomes flesh, flesh becomes sacrament, sacrament becomes indwelling presence, indwelling presence becomes sacred, sacred becomes word, word becomes flesh, round and round and round.

I was also thinking about a poem by Marina Tsvetaeva, but I couldn't remember the name of it or much about it, except for one line about having stars in our hair.  I first encountered that poem in a workshop at a conference in a South Carolina state park, a conference on bringing international/global elements to first year classes.  I loved this poem, and for about a year, I took it with me everywhere I went.  I wrote poems in response to it.

And now, I might again.

This morning I decided I wanted to read the original, and I did some Google searching.  There are many more Tsvataeva poems than one could once find.  But I couldn't find that one.  One search led me to another search, and I began to remember the other line, about avoiding, evading, or escaping death, and finally, I got to the correct poem.  

Some readers may already know that I was Googling the wrong line and the wrong image, but the correct author name, which led me to some interesting places, and I began to despair of ever finding the poem.

Now that I have found it, let me paste it here.  And let my poet theologian brain keep thinking about stars in our hair and bread dough in our hair and the meaning of sacrament.


We shall not escape Hell


by Marina Tsvetaeva

We shall not escape Hell, my passionate
sisters, we shall drink black resins––
we who sang our praises to the Lord
with every one of our sinews, even the finest,

we did not lean over cradles or
spinning wheels at night, and now we are
carried off by an unsteady boat
under the skirts of a sleeveless cloak,

we dressed every morning in
fine Chinese silk, and we would
sing our paradisal songs at
the fire of the robbers’camp,

slovenly needlewomen, (all
our sewing came apart), dancers,
players upon pipes: we have been
the queens of the whole world!

first scarcely covered by rags,
then with constellations in our hair, in
gaol and at feasts we have
bartered away heaven,

in starry nights, in the apple
orchards of Paradise
––Gentle girls, my beloved sisters,
we shall certainly find ourselves in Hell!

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Our Deepest Dreams, God's Deepest Dreams

I continue to be blown away by how many people gave me so much positive energy on my Facebook post about applying to seminary and from such a wide variety of people across my life.  There was a moment yesterday when I thought, Oh my goodness, what have I done?

When I made the Facebook post, I figured that it was a Friday night and most people wouldn't pay attention, if indeed they saw it at all.  I was surprised that it continued to get attention and comments through Saturday.

I thought back to one of the books I read for my certificate in spiritual direction, God’s Voice Within: The Ignatian Way to Discover God’s Will by Mark E. Thibodeaux.  In fact, during the past several weeks, I've thought about that book often.  It was one of the first times I had seen Ignatian concepts spelled out that clearly.

I read the book back in October, so this morning I pulled it off the shelf, and I was struck by the language of visioning.  Early in the book Thibodeaux says, "Later on, I will define consolation as letting God dream in me.  If that is the case, then desolation is allowing the false spirit to nightmare in me.  I am in desolation when I become preoccupied by false futures of impending doom" (p. 30).

I loved the ideas of consolation and desolation that Thibodeaux explores in his book.  It's an interesting way towards discernment.  He suggests asking these questions:  "What is the most loving thing to do?  What is the most hopeful thing to do?  What is the most faith-filled thing to do?" (p. 47).

Many faithful people will remind us that we're either moving toward God or away from God, and that discernment can help us figure out any number of questions.  Thibodeaux goes even further, saying "But Ignatius held the radical notion that God dwells  within our desires." (p. 167).  What if we trusted that wisdom?  Our deepest, wildest desires are God, talking to us, guiding us, shaping us.

One problem, of course, is that we've been taught that giving in to our deep desires will upend our lives and bring us to a ruinous end.  We might protest that we have been taught no such thing, but I'd instruct us to look at popular culture to see the evidence.  Popular culture, at least a segment of it, teaches us that our heart desires what is not good for us:  drugs, alcohol, the wrong kind of sex, any number of ways to avoid being responsible citizens.

But maybe that teaching is wrong.  What if we started to trust our deepest desire?  What if we started to act to move us to fulfillment of those deep desires?

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Seminary Application and My Most Popular Facebook Post Ever

Earlier this week, I got e-mails from 2 of the people whom I asked to write recommendation letters for seminary--they had submitted letters and gotten verification from Wesley that their letters arrived.  I decided that I had better go ahead and get my part done.

Once again, I entered information--I've lost track of how many times I've slotted in all the degrees I've done.  At least I didn't have to enter my job information again.  Earlier this week, I was working on the forms that need to be done before the psychological evaluation for the candidacy process can begin.  Those two forms have spots for similar information (school, jobs), but I couldn't cut and paste.

Yesterday afternoon, I finished the seminary application--the candidacy process will take a bit longer, but I'm on track.  Yesterday afternoon, I ordered my transcripts to be sent to Wesley.

Last night, I made this Facebook post:  "Today, I applied to go to seminary. My goal is an MDiv degree with a track in Theology and the Arts from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. I hope to be ordained in the Lutheran (ELCA) church, so I'm also completing the parts of the candidacy process. I'm hoping to start taking classes in the Fall of 2021."

I think that this will be my most popular Facebook post of all time.  On Saturday morning, at 9:41 a.m., I have 98 likes and 55 comments.  So far, no one has written to say that I am out of my mind or too old.  I've heard from a variety of friends:  high school, college, retreat friends, friends from a variety of workplaces, spin class friends.  It's amazing.

I'm not sure why I'm surprised when I get these votes of confidence, these well wishes.  But I am surprised--and so very grateful.