Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm/Passion Sunday for Poets and Writers

Today churches across Christendom will celebrate Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem.  Of course, the same crowd that cheers for Jesus will just a few days later be screaming for his death.  Many churches will cover the whole Holy Week story today:  Palm Sunday has become Passion Sunday.  For a theological meditation with photos, head over to this post on my theology blog.

This morning I woke up thinking about what the Palm/Passion Sunday story has to say to us as poets and writers.  As humans, we are susceptible to the desire for praise.  We don't feel like our work is important unless someone else says it is.  In some ways, this tendency is good.  We need the checks and balances of brains that aren't our own.  I've written many a harsh things in my younger years, much to my later regret.  How I wish I had listened to other voices that encouraged me to temper my tone.

But taken to its extreme, this need for praise can be damaging.  We stop believing in ourselves and our worth and the worth of our work unless someone important tells us that we're great.  And quickly, we start to determine which praise counts and which doesn't:  this journal is worth our time, that one isn't.  If we can't be published by the top 10 presses, we won't bother.  If my book doesn't sell x amount of copies, it's not worth it.  The danger is that we'll become paralyzed by all of this.  I'm all for shooting for the top.  I'll send my manuscript to W.W. Norton or Knopf.  But if they say no, I don't want to stop there.

The Palm/Passion story also reminds us of the fleeting nature of fame.  Don't get me wrong:  if I'm chosen to be Poet Laureate, I'll do as good a job as I'm capable of doing.  But I'll start every day by reminding myself that the fame is likely temporary.  The important thing remains:  the work.

The Palm/Passion story reminds us that we're characters in a larger narrative (as does the Passover story, which people across the world will be hearing this week too, both in Jewish traditions and some Christian traditions).  We will find ourselves in great danger if we start to believe it's all about us, personally.  No, there are larger forces at work.  To put it in poetry and Scouting terms:  I'm put here to do my best writing, but also, to leave the poetry campsite better than I found it.  How do I do that?  I work to promote not only myself, but other worthy poets, I work to make sure that the next generations know about the rewards of poetry, I envision the kind of world we would have if poetry was valued, and I work/play to make that possible.  I also work to have a balanced, integrated life:  my work in poetry cannot be allowed to eclipse other important work:  the social justice work, the care of my family and friends, my relationship with the Divine, the other creative work I do, the self-care that must be the foundation of it all.

I find many values to being part of a religious tradition, but the constant reminder of the larger vision, the larger mission, is one of the most valuable to me.  The world tells me that many things are important:  fame, money, famous/rich people, a big house, a swell car, loads of stuff.  My religious tradition reminds me of the moth-eaten nature of these things that the world would have me believe is important.  My religious tradition reminds me of the importance of the larger vision.  And happily, my religious tradition is expansive enough that my creative work can be part of that larger vision.

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