August 20

DIVORCE, DEPRESSION AND DANCE

For the last two days, I have been frustrated.  I have tried and tried without success to sell people on the idea of poetry therapy.  However, I think that Christian women have been doing this ever since the first woman came into her own papyrus and quill.  There was even (oh, the thrill of it) the rumor going around in the first century that Priscilla wrote The Letter to the Hebrews!  Oh, my, that rumor was squelched quickly.  But never mind, the women kept on writing.  (You can do the history for yourself.)

As I walked out of divorce court in 1992 I had a stone in my heart. My son and I walked down the street together, saw a book store and ambled in. Down close to the floor a title stood out to me:  May I Have This Dance?   It was written by a nun, Joyce Rupp.  She begins with a poem:   “But just when the old heap of bones seems most dry and deserted, a strong Breath of Life stirs among my dead.   Someone named God comes to my fragments and asks, with twinkling eye:  ‘May I have this dance?’” I bought the book and wrote for the next decade all over the front page reminding God of His question.

I write two or three pages every morning as part of a dual commitment—to read the Psalms recommended in a Bible study I’ve joined and write my prayer, but also to write as part of an artist’s challenge.   This morning I came to the journal with my frustration at the back of my mind and began to write.  Then I looked at Psalm 5 and 6 and slowly began to realize that God has already heard my heart’s desire.  For some time, I have longed to have a reunion with my best friend from childhood and my cousin who live in the same state.  Just a few weeks ago, my sweet sister called to say she wanted to visit our cousin and after a few conversations, realized that she had enough airline travel to fly us both to see our friends.  We’re going! This is a wonderful blessing.  So the lesson for me is–let God be God.  Trust God not only to open doors and close them, but do it with perfect timing. God is still inviting me to the dance.  (And that is poetry therapy.)

May 4

California Girl

Last evening I watched on public television the story of Janis Joplin.  I hadn’t intended to stay but I found myself drawn in by the story and yes, that haunting music.  Rejected even ridiculed when young—even voted somewhere – a bar maybe –“the world’s ugliest man” – Janis was like young girls everywhere.  She just wanted to be loved.

Janis was bored with small-town life in Texas and it was about this time that she started to hear the music.  She had some musician friends, some guys who took her to Austin and it was in Austin that she heard those blues.   They called to her loneliness, maybe.  She began to mimic the sound for by this time she had discovered she had a pretty powerful voice.  In time, she went to San Francisco and with her band, Janis was a hit.

She tried to go home sometimes.  Once she thought her boyfriend was coming to marry her only instead when she called him, a woman answered.  He already had a wife or girlfriend and a baby; he was not coming to marry her.  One more time the shame of not being pretty enough, not being loved enough washed over Janis.  She went back to San Francisco (when she said she was going to Austin).  She became famous.

Maybe I was fascinated with Janis’s story because in the 60’s I, too, was a “California girl.”  I was living in Southern California with my young husband, working as a secretary at Long Beach State College.  It was there that I met a vivacious young receptionist at the Information Desk who sat with me on our lunch breaks and let me hear her recite Bible verses she was memorizing.  Those words were electricity for me (as she knew they would be).  I wanted to know Jesus Christ like that.  In a few months my husband and I were baptized together.  There’s more to that story, of course.  The road was not always smooth.

But there is one memory I have of that decade that reminded me of how easy it is to be seduced by admiration, affirmation.  My husband had a buddy at work who was trying to get in the movies and he asked if I would memorize a few lines and go with him to Hollywood to meet his agent, and perform our scene for him.  I was excited to be so close to the Hollywood scene, and I dressed in a way that makes me ashamed now as I think about it.  Around this time, we watched The Graduate and I cried all the way home.  I was ashamed of myself for getting so close to the immorality of that world (and the temptation in me).

I’ve written a poem about Janis (and maybe myself a little).

CALIFORNIA GIRL

Janis, Janis, little girl, I wish I could have been there

to tell you that you were lovely just the way you were

to tell you that you were loved and that your Creator had a

wonderful purpose for your life.

But you believed a lie—

that if you yelled loud enough maybe someone

would hear your pain and love you—

“I’ll do anything you want!” you cried, moaned–

(but you didn’t want to hear about that cross).

So they used you and you used, too, to relax they say

and then one day it was too late to go home.

And the men who knew you and used you sat around

discussing you many years after you were gone

(how did you die, dear girl, they didn’t say).

A woman talked about you, too.

She said “It was like being with God.  I wish I could have been there.”

Like I said, she believed a lie.

 

January 20

New Member Welcome Guide

I guess I’ve learned the hard way how not to join a church. Being a bit naive and self-confident, I assumed that being a Christian, it should be easy to walk in a church, attend services and a small group, and be accepted. Trust me in this, in case you’ve been in a church all your life (the same one, that is), it’s not that easy. The thing is, you’ve got to be humble. Humble and patient. I don’t think I get high marks in either of these. Oh, and thick-skinned helps, too. Not everyone will hand out directories of a class you’ve attended for several weeks and refuse you one, but be ready. It could happen. Not everyone will stand up beside you when you’ve accidentally sat in her pew around many open rows and say loudly, “It sure has gotten crowded here today.” It happened to me once. Not everyone will invite you to a meal in a restaurant and leave you sitting by yourself as eight or so ladies gather together at a different one.  Enough. I think I’ve learned not to pay attention to this kind of behavior, to realize that the grace of the Savior is still true, to accept that His love has to be received before it can be extended to others.

Billy Collins is a modern poet (still living) who writes some delightfully funny and insightful poetry. I love one by him titled “Introduction to Poetry” in case you care to look it up. But I wrote a poem similar to his style and I called it

New Member Welcome Guide.

I ask them to walk to the other side of the room and
climb on the window sill, smiling down at the people below
or turn around and wave to someone at the back.

I say bring a ladder to the party and polish the
chandeliers while the show goes on,

or grab a fussy child and feed them ice cream.

I want them to find someone they don’t know
and offer a stretch limousine, a gourmet meal and
$1,000 if they will come home with them for a day.

But all they want to do is nail themselves to the chair
while guard dogs surround them, growling ferociously.

They begin cracking a whip to keep the strangers at bay.

October 20

Ultimate Healing–Go After It With All Your Heart

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.

October 7

I Let Go

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.