In the past year I have lived deeply into two books. I returned over and over to taste and savor their wisdom, as though I were sucking on a bone, which had simmered all day long in a crock pot.
In my writers’ group, The Topeka Writer’s Workshop, I marvel at the swiftness of the group’s feedback, their pithy responses, useful suggestions, and on point critique. My cohorts are all “real poets” in my mind and more knowledgeable about literature and the craft of writing than I am. At our workshops, they leave me in the dust, reading and rereading the rich words on the page.
I am still at the third line rolling the author’s word choice or images in my mind, chewing at the wonder, and licking the juice off my fingers, when they are ready to move on to another poem or story. I feel the same way at public readings. As the audience softly murmurs admiration and claps politely, I want to holler and whoop, rise to my feet, pump the air and shout: “Wait a minute here! Please stop and let us all think about what you just read! This is magnificent.” And then turn about in a little dance.
Thus, you may understand how taking a year to read one or two book s of poetry suits me well. When I am not dawdling with poems, I devour mysteries, fiction, and spiritual/theological nonfiction. To be honest I am getting my fill of the spiritual/theological/what-should-we-do- about- the-church nonfiction, and plan to branch out into zombies and urban fantasy this year.
Here is one of the books of poetry I lived with last year: Mark S. Burrows’ translation of Rilke, Prayers of a Young Poet . I will share the other book with you in a later post.
As the seasons of last year passed, I looked over the shoulder of a young monk composing his prayers to the Dark Mystery who courted him in his small cell. I watched his struggle for words to name the Unnameable, and for color and line to write an icon that might lift a corner of the curtain that covered his shy Beloved.
I followed the poet/monk into the forest and onto the ever expanding heath, as he entered into the secret intimacy of the One who would not let him go. I sat up with him late at night and tasted that ache of loneliness that borders solitude and finally becomes the gate which springs wide open onto union. The key to the gate is losing that pesky self, which seeks always to assert its primacy to grasp and to possess. I watched the monk’s continual surrender to and reverence for the holy beauty of his own weakness and deep need, where, wonder of wonders, the vast and luminous Dark Mystery makes its home.
It is true that half of what Rilke writes I do not understand, but neither do I understand God. Burrows beautiful translation of Rilke’s poems opened me to the passion and nakedness of soul of the young monk, which Rilke creates for us. The monk, smitten with what he cannot fully contain in his prayers, or comprehend, enlarged my appreciation of the ultimate hidden poverty of God in the human soul. I am more comfortable now with my own inscrutable self. And I am more trusting of the exquisite beauty and uniqueness of God’s presence in the lives of those I counsel.
Here are some lines from the poems in this book I take with me into the new year:
But through it all rumors of God wander
in your dark blood as if along dark alleys. p.73
Carry that that line around in your pocket for a week or two. Or write the ones below on a scrap of paper and tuck it under your pillow:
He teaches you to say:
You my deeper sense
trust that I won’t disappoint You;
there’s so much clamoring in my blood –
but I know I am made of yearning. p 74
And this from the young monk’s letter to his superior:
I live a pious life. I don’t call upon any court,
and my prayer with which I sometimes exalt myself and which I sometimes speak and sometimes live
is: “Make me simple
that I might become ever more whole in You.” p. 101
In this new year may you be met by the the Mystery of Love in the alleys of your own dark blood.
We all are made of yearning
and the Yearning Itself is Holiness
aching for wholeness in us all.
Oh, Great One, make me simple, make me little, make me small!
For any who would like to read the latest issue of Holy Ground, here it is :Autumn 2014 – Let Go and Keep at It It is about the ongoing task of the spiritual life: surrender. What do you need to let go of and leave behind in the new year?