Poetry Sundays: Descending Theology: The Crucifixion

Art by William BouguereauIt is increasingly difficult for me to separate the miracle of Christ’s birth from the sorrow of His death. Maybe age does that to us as we move from the first half to the second half of life. Maybe it’s something about Mary. No doubt, on its deepest level, the message of the atonement offers joy–ultimate, celebratory joy. I believe we will all be freed from the effects of sin and sorrow in the eternities. Yet, in a mortal world of violence and heartbreak, that joy often seems far off.

Some of us struggle to believe in a God who would allow the unspeakable cruelty that exists in this world. I imagine everyone who ever lived will at some point find herself wondering how to hold on to faith when a child is lost to disease, a friend is killed in an act of senseless violence, or even when a good soul is taken home at the end of a long life.

I chose today’s poem because Mary Karr is not shy about telling the truth. She speaks our fear that perhaps, “some less than loving watcher watches us.” She is not afraid to visit the darkest places each of us will visit some day, or to say Christ was not a only God, but also a man when he hung there. I chose this poem because, for me, one of the greatest gifts Christ gave us was the comfort of His last words on the cross: His testimony that a kind and nurturing parent waits to receive us home.

 

Descending Theology: The Crucifixion

To be crucified is first to lie down on a shaved tree, and then to have oafs stretch you out on a crossbar as if for flight, then thick spikes fix you into place.

Once the cross pops up and the pole stob sinks vertically in an earth hole, perhaps at an awkward list, what then can you blame for hurt but your own self's burden?

You're not the figurehead on a ship. You're not flying anywhere, and no one's coming to hug you. You hang like that, a sack of flesh with the hard trinity of nails holding you into place.

Thus hung, your ribcage struggles up to breathe until you suffocate. If God permits this, one wonders if some less than loving watcher

watches us. The man on the cross under massed thunderheads feels his soul leak away, then surge. Some wind         sucks him into the light stream

in the rent sky, and he's snatched back, held close.

An earlier version of this poem may be read here.  Mary Karr’s “Sinners Welcome” the volume from which the poem was selected can be found here.

 

 

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Poetry Sundays: Who The Meek Are Not

 

 

Mary Karr, Sinners Welcome

Who The Meek Are Not

By Mary Karr

          Not the bristle-bearded Igors bent
under burlap sacks, not peasants knee-deep
          in the rice-paddy muck,
nor the serfs whose quarter-moon sickles
          make the wheat fall in waves
they don’t get to eat. My friend the Franciscan
          nun says we misread 
that word meek in the Bible verse that blesses them. 
          To understand the meek 
(she says) picture a great stallion at full gallop
          in a meadow, who—
at his master’s voice—seizes up to a stunned
          but instant halt. 
So with the strain of holding that great power
          in check, the muscles 
along the arched neck keep eddying,
          and only the velvet ears
prick forward, awaiting the next order. 

 

::

Among my favorite religious poems, Who the Meek Are Not, has stayed with me since I first read it. It is one a few jewels I pull from a treasure box of inspirational writing when I become confused or wonder if my particular variety of discipleship is worthy of God’s grace.

I understand this version of meekness, the ears pricked forward, the sudden awareness of a call, the subsequent redirection of energy. Meekness can be a quiet yet powerful force running through our veins. Mary Karr and her Franciscan nun gave me permission to be a strong, courageous, vocal woman who is a humble servant of Christ. My agency–the power to choose, and to have an effect on the world–is only as useful as my willingness to surrender that power to God, to seek his will. I pray for strength and meekness every day.

How do you feel about meekness? What does this poem say to you? 

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Poetry Sundays: Mary Oliver

Starlings in Winter

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,

even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard, I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

~Mary Oliver, from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays, 2003

One of my most vivid memories from childhood is witnessing a starling murmuration. I remember standing in a field with my father, watching as the black cloud rose, expanded, and spun into amorphous shapes in the sky. I can still recall that delicious feeling of wonder and exhilaration, of my breath catching in my throat and pure joy reverberating throughout my little body. It is this memory that sprang to my mind as I read Mary Oliver’s poem. Her description of dancing starlings in the sky spoke to my childhood experience and for a moment I recaptured that tingling feeling of joy.

I have been in the midst of a literal and figurative winter–life has been hard and I have been grieving that reality. But as spring approaches, I find myself longing to shed the heaviness and darkness of sadness. Oliver’s last stanza speaks to me, I want to think again of noble things, to be frolicsome and afraid of nothing. I want to fly through the world and feel all the joy and beauty it has to offer. I want to carry with me the wonder of starlings.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and feelings in the comments!

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Heavenly Mother in the Life and Poetry of Melody Newey: A Dialogue (Part 1 of 3)

by Martin Pulido

As part of the A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest, I have been trying to highlight historical and contemporary artists that have already portrayed or referred to Heavenly Mother in their works. I really wanted to interview Melody Newey, who has written several poems about Heavenly Mother in the past twenty years, to not only draw more attention to her work, but to also have a better understanding of how she explores the divine feminine in her writing. I wrote Melody, and gratefully she was more than willing to fulfill my request. After some e-mail correspondence, I called her on a Sunday morning and had the wonderful opportunity to get to know her and her work. The dialogue that follows below shares much of what I discovered.

rsz_newey4

PULIDO: Melody, before I delve into your poetry, I’d like to learn more about the poet. I’m a firm believer in context, and I think knowing more about you will help us (me and your readership) better understand your work. So if you’ll humor me, please tell us a little about yourself. What is it you would like us to know about you?

NEWEY: The short answer is that I love Jesus and babies and flowers. I am a very simple person, although like everyone I have complexities beneath the surface, which I explore in my writing.

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Poetry Sundays: Elizabeth Bishop

lost keys

Image by atache on flickr.

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

(circa 1976)

One of my favorite poets in all the world is Elizabeth Bishop. And this piece of hers is resonating with me and my many anxieties lately (some of which I expressed in my comment on the last Poetry Sundays post). Every time I come back to this poem, I love it more. I love its clear-cut rhymes and easy rhythms—that it feels a lot like a free verse poem in the way it flows without effort—but it is actually following the very strict rules of a poetic form called the villanelle. I can only say that the form of this poem about quadruples my admiration for it.

Please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments. If you don’t know where to start I have a couple of questions that came to mind as I read “One Art” this time around. When she says “the art of losing,” what exactly does that mean to you? And why do you think she doesn’t ever mention looking for or finding things that are lost?

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