NOTIONS OF THE SACRED: Poetry as Spritual Practice

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“Without art, we should have no notion of the sacred; without science, we should always worship false gods.” W.H. Auden



Originally pulished in The BeZine.

When we move on in the arc of our lives – to center – we cross the threshold into that place from which all things emanate – the sacred space of poetry and indeed all art and creativity. We leave behind the cacophony of assumptions and received wisdom to rest in Rumi’s field – a place he says is “beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing.” We cross the threshold into a w-h-o-l-l-y, place – a place Rumi tells us the “world is too full to talk about.” The ideal of this field reminds me very much of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, where all the hallelujah’s – broken or whole – are equal. And so it is with us and with our poetry, which as a spiritual practice brings balance and sacredness into our lives.

This business of taking up our pens involves more than learning the technical rudiments, the history of our craft and its key players. It requires of us a trust in ourselves. It requires letting go of the expectation of understanding everything. We learn to embrace mystery and ambiguity. We learn to sit with process and to sit with the poems we are drawn to or the poetry we write . . . or, perhaps which writes us. We allow the visions, the word-play, the colors, tones and cadence to work on us. Whether we share our poems with others or not, whether we are amateur or professional, is irrelevant. What matters is that we go on the hero’s journey and we come back with a gift.

When we write, we are like Rilke’s “Swan” …

“when he nervously lets himself down
into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown,
more like a king, further and further on.”

Sacred space always reveals the unexpected. We are always changed, though the change may be subtle. What might come up are the daily concerns – how to make it through the day – or the current pain: the loss of a loved one, abandonment, ills of body and mind, concerns for children … Joy! and Gratitude! As we grow “more like a king, further and further on,”  our sacred space may reveal something about the greater mysteries…

does it matter after all, the curiosities

when fish and water are one
when light and dark are indistinguishable
when we are neither content nor discontent
when questions cease and ideologies melt
when there is no helping and no taking

. . . there is this” [© Jamie Dedes]

enso

And “this” is well represented by the Buddhist ensō illustrated above. It is meant to express that moment when the mind is still, allowing for creation. It symbolizes enlightenment. I’m sure all faiths have similar concepts. From a Christian perspective – perhaps the discussion would be about the “gaze of faith” and claritas (Thomas Aquinas) –  “intellectual light,” illumination. In Buddhism, traditionally this ensō is done as a part of spiritual practice and it is a kind of meditation in the way that all creative efforts are meditation.

“Writing is a process in which we discover what lives in us. The writing itself reveals to us what is alive in us. The deepest satisfaction of writing is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us of which we were not aware before we started to write. To write is to embark on a journey whose final destination we do not know. Thus, writing requires a real act of trust. We have to say to ourselves: ‘I do not yet know what I carry in my heart, but I trust that it will emerge as I write.’ Writing is like giving away the few loaves and fishes one has, trusting that they will multiply in the giving. Once we dare to ‘give away’ on paper the few thoughts that come to us, we start discovering how much is hidden underneath these thoughts and gradually come in touch with our own riches.” ‪‎Henri Nouwen‬ REFLECTIONS ON THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION (unpublished) http://www.henrinouwen.org

So trust that through your poetry you will enter that field where there is no right doing or wrong doing and …

“The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life. “ [Love After Love, © Derrick Walcott, Collected Poems, 1948–1984 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1987)

© 2016, essay and photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Ensō (c. 2000) by Kanjuro Shibata XX under CC BY-SA 3.0

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Then and Now, a poem by Debbie Felio

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” Albert Einstein


Then and Now

 
That was then – 
   those people killed – wrong religion –
    those hangings – wrong color
 
    that war
 
that was then –
  those people killed – wrong country  
      those beheadings – wrong beliefs 
 
        that war
 
that was then 
  those people killed – wrong place 
   those raped and pummeled – wrong gender 
 
     that war
 
that was then
    those people killed – in utero
      those shootings – protected second amendment rights
 
        that war
 
that was then
       those people killed – thousands
         those imprisonments – thousands
 
           those wars
 
that was then
        hard to believe
           newspaper, radio
             those indescribable acts
 
   this is now –
         hard to believe
           live coverage
             devastation / destruction
 
    then – over and over
 
         again
 
               this war and
                   the next
.
© 2018, Debbie Felio, All rights reserved
 
 
DEBBIE FELIO is a poet/witness living and writing in Boulder, Colorado. This poem – profound for the way it showcases the insanity –  is Debbie’s response to Baruch, The Baker
.

One of a Kind, a poem by John Anstie



(for Myrra)

Is she the last of a generation,
who lived through two centuries
of cataclysmic events and change;
a century that felt the consequence
of moving territories and boundaries.
From crowns to oligarchical republics,
from rags to riches beyond counting,
technological revolution, the benefits
of science, engineering and medicine,
a system of healthcare and welfare that,
despite the imposed failings of ideology,
looked after her so well … until she left.

Is she the last of a generation,
of whom we’ll be able to say:
“She’s the last of her generation”,
who fought childhood infection
by their own in-built immunity
– no pharmaceutical intervention
to compromise nature’s ways –
who fought for their country
with hope, fear and courage
as their constant companions
without leave for counsel or therapy
to help them through their days.

Malevolent, engineered conflict,
driven by and driving the revolution,
through deeply rooted anxiety
that keeps us at war with others,
with each other, with ourselves …
a continuum of change, so rapid
that we had no time to reflect on
its merits (or not) leading headlong,
steadily, insidiously, irreversibly..?
to a virtual, digital, designer world,
addicted to things that loosen our grip
on a life that once was, not so long ago.

A life more in touch with nature
in which they could roam free;
step out and walk wild for the day
in casual clothes and wellies, with a tin,
a packed lunch, made by their mums;
play games, whose names we forgot.
Walk shoulder to shoulder with a friend,
make daisy chains, mud pies and fish
with a stick in streams and wild rivers,
but virtual games carry young lives away,
so our smart phones all too often convey
in a digest of news, twenty four hours a day.

Is she the last of her generation,
gifted with ‘freedom’ from the toxic
stale air of hyperventilating media
or will we one day be able to say
in the eternity of time and space:
we are all unique, each one of us
was born of a time, from a special
exotic recipe of genes and place,
bringing our gift to the world by
the pull of the moon and the stars,
the physics and chemistry of life
that mould us into what we are …

… one of a kind.

© March 2018,John Anstie, Shared here with permission. All rights reserved.  You can visit John at My Poetry Library. John is also a member of The BeZine core team and you will find a piece by him in the June 15 issue when it is published.

[In her own words: “Born in Yorkshire in March 1919, Myrra Robb Anstie was educated at Southport Girls’ High School. She then won a scholarship for three years at Southport School of Art. She worked as a draughts-woman until the outbreak of WW2, when she enlisted to serve in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (A.T.S.). She lived, from the early 1960’s, in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, where she worked as a teacher of Art, exhibited and sold her work. She returned to the U.K. in 1986, spending a few years teaching portraiture and oil painting for Adult Education in Leicestershire, before settling in Devon in 1991. She was then a member of the Exmouth Art Group. Her hobbies are golf, bridge, computers and sewing. Her favourite subject in art is portraiture.”

My words: Myrra was my step-mother, ‘mum’, and part of my life for nearly fifty years. She married my Father in 1963. I first met her in 1971. Born only a year after the end of WW1, she died in February just three weeks short of her 99th Birthday. She was a woman with a strength of character and opinion that made her a force of nature. She cites her hobbies as including golf. To say it was a hobby is a slight understatement. She was a very competitive golfer, in fact she was competitive at almost everything she did. She shared her passion for the game with my father for the 42 years they were married. Both of them had played from a very young age. She was also competitive as a Bridge player. Her mainstay, her profession, throughout her life was that she established herself as a talented artist, specialising in portraiture. She was a teacher as well as a practitioner of her art. My children and grandchildren benefitted from her teaching. She became a particularly major part of our lives after my Father died in 2005. She will be missed.

A few years ago, I wrote a poem for her that she was very rude about and told me never to write another one about her! I was offended, but, with hindsight, I confess and concede that particular poem was not my best work. To be kind, I guess she was applying her own high standards to my art, as she applied to her own. To honour her wishes, this poem is not about her; it’s about the age through which she lived. It is, nevertheless, dedicated to her.]


John Anstie

JOHN ANSTIE (My Poetry Library and 42) ~ is a British writer, poet and musician –  a multi-talented gentleman self-described as a “Family man, Grandfather, Occasional Musician, Singer, Amateur photographer and Film-maker, Apple-MAC user, Implementation Manager, and Engineer”. He has participated in d’Verse Poet’s Pub and is a player in New World Creative Union as well as a being a ‘spoken-voice’ participant in Roger Allen Baut’s excellent ‘Blue Sky Highway‘ radio broadcasts. He’s been blogging since the beginning of 2011. He is also a member of The Poetry Society (UK).

Recent publications are anthologies resulting from online collaborations among two international groups of amateur and professional poets. One of these is The Grass Roots Poetry Group (Petrichor* Rising. The other group is d’Verse Poet Pub, in which John’s poetry also appears The d’Verse Anthology: Voices of Contemporary World Poetry, produced and edited by Frank Watson.

Petrichor – from the Greek pɛtrɨkər, the scent of rain on the dry earth.


ABOUT THE POET BY DAY

the lesser being of a lesser god, a poem … and your Wednesday Writing Prompt

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I waged His wars, and now I pass and die.
O me! for why is all around us here
As if some lesser god had made the world …
Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King



i always come back to the sea ~
in the winter when gardens lay waste
and the contemplative time is upon us
and in summer, languid and color crazy

no matter the season, she shines

self-confident
decked-out in sunlighted spray
tossing her waves into wild arabesque
roaring her traveling chants

no reluctant tourist, the sea

the eternal sea,
in the power of her isness
she mocks me
marks me as the lesser being
of a lesser god

© 2016, poem, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Photo courtesy of morgueFile

WEDNESDAY WRITING PROMPT

Sometimes in the face of nature’s magnificence, I really do feel as though I might be the child of a lesser god, though goodness knows we humans are as much beauty and miracle as any other manifestation of that creative energy, called by many “God.”  When, how, where have you felt like a lesser being … in the face of what? Tell us in your own poem/s and share them or a link to it/them in the comments section below.

All poems shared on theme will be published next Tuesday. Please do NOT email your poem to me or leave it on Facebook.

IF this is your first time participating in The Poet by Day, Wednesday Writing Prompt, please send a brief bio and photo to me at thepoetbyday@gmail.com in order to introduce yourself to the community … and to me :-).  These will be partnered with your poem/s on first publication.

Deadline:  Monday, June 18 at 8 p.m. PDT.

Anyone may take part Wednesday Writing Prompt, no matter the status of your career: novice, emerging or pro.  It’s about exercising the poetic muscle, sharing your work, and getting to know other poets who might be new to you. This is a discerning nonjudgemental place to connect.


ABOUT THE POET BY DAY