The poems people have enjoyed the most in our “Poetry for the Journey” classes are the ones that are entertaining but have a line or two that really speaks to the heart. Recently we looked at “Advice to Myself” by Louise Erdrich. I love this poem. Erdrich advises herself (and us) to “let pink mold collect in the refrigerator,” i.e. let anything go that gets in the way of — and here is the “zinger” — in the way of our pursuing what is authentic. She says that (of course) we need to decide first what is authentic. Oh, my. In biblio-poetry therapy, the goal is healing. For me personally, there is an ultimate healing and it is when the creature (man or woman) finds herself face to face with her Creator, and knows that he (she) is loved. The way to recognize that love is not to earn it or work for it but to accept the Creator’s offer. The truth is, if we don’t come to terms with a Cross, we keep stumbling (and needing healing). Once on the other side of the Cross of Jesus Christ, sometimes we do also stumble or fail or suffer, but we know whose we are. Then other kinds of healing go into the soul quicker and deeper. After all, who but the Creator has given the gifts of music, art and poetry? I for one am thankful for all the gifts of my Father, and I hope to share them for the rest of my (authentic) life.
People sometimes ask me, “What do you expect to accomplish with this poetry thing?” It’s a fair question, but in truth the best answer is the one a person finds herself. All I do is provide a safe place, a good poem, and an invitation to talk and then write. The challenge for some is to sit quietly and allow the memories to come to consciousness. Many times they have been locked in the basement where we thought they belonged. Little by little, people realize they do in fact have a story and moreover, the telling of it brings healing. People can write a poem or an essay; it doesn’t matter. They don’t need to share it with anyone. Even though we’re sitting in a room, writing with other people, there is no teacher and there is no audience. We write for ourselves. Satisfaction usually results. We are often surprised at what we write.
I have a story to illustrate how this works, a very personal story. Life occasionally blindsides us with emotional pain we never saw coming. I’ve had that kind of season. I had forgotten how that crushing pain feels. Tears flow easily. I found myself in need of healing. For me, finally, I sensed some loving guidance from a Benedictine sister, Joan Chittister, OSB, in her book, Wisdom Distilled From The Daily. I had actually underlined this chapter before, and I want to quote a few lines (from page 65). Life may be unclear, life may be difficult, but we are free of false hopes and false faces and false needs that once held us down. We can fly now. The chapter was on humility. I needed to let go of some immature thinking. So how does one celebrate letting go? I wrote a poem, and I sensed a lightness and a joy. This is why I do what I do.
I LET GO
I let go of children.
I let go of needing to please them.
I let go of expecting them to please me.
I let go of expecting them to take care of me.
I let go of needing to prove myself good, or smart, or right, or successful.
I let go of feeling guilty for not being good enough or smart enough or right or successful.
I let go of trying.
Trying to defend myself
Trying to protect others or help when I haven’t been asked
Trying to inspire or give advice or persuade.
In return, I receive all the wisdom I can glean,
all the joy and all the love in God’s heart, and therefore, in mine.
Finally, I let go of myself.
I let go.