Ongoing Poetry, God, and the Natural World
by Ann Huston
The first poem I remember writing happened in the middle of church on a Sunday morning. I was in elementary school, and the poem was about sitting by a fire, feeling the warmth emanating from it. That I wrote it in church speaks to my comfort in that setting. Writing can be very private and solitary, yet my mind was open to this creative impulse, and I wrote it, regardless of what was going on in the service. My parents have always been very supportive of my writing, and I’ve never been punished for writing, even if it was while in church.
The first of the “Prayers and Thanksgivings” at the back of the Book of Common Prayer is for “Joy in God’s Creation.” O heavenly Father, who has filled the world with beauty: Open our eyes to behold thy gracious hand in all thy works; that rejoicing in thy whole creation, we may learn to serve thee with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We also have prayers for Agriculture, the Knowledge of God’s Creation, the Conservation of Natural Resources, the Harvest of Lands and Waters, Rain, and the Future of the Human Race. I was probably not aware of these environmentally-oriented prayers when I started writing, but when I read them in high school, I felt an immediate connection. I think the strongest theme in my poetry, or most long-lasting one, has been experiencing communion in nature, even if God isn’t directly mentioned.
In the Episcopal Church, the first question of the Catechism is “What are we by nature?” and the answer: “We are part of God’s creation, made in the image of God.” We are not listed as the highest of God’s creation, but a part, the same part as all the other creatures and plants and organisms. Concerning our (human) place in the Universe: “It means that the world belongs to its creator; and that we are called to enjoy it and to care for it in accordance with God’s purposes.” (We don’t own the world.) God’s nature revealed to us through Jesus shows us that God is love. The way we recognize the Holy Spirit in our lives is “when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation.” Though creation is listed last, it still is on the list, signifying to me the importance of the natural world as God’s creation and another way for Him/Her to connect to us.
This is one of my early poems, and is one of my mom’s favorites, written in about 4th grade (I really want to go back and change some of the punctuation and language, but I’ll leave it in its original form). The sense of community and belonging within nature, though I’m the only human in the place, comes up again in later poems.
As I walk through the woods
I hear the wind rustling the leaves.
I see a snake on the ground.
I feel as if I were not alone, but with friends,
The birds, butterflies, deer, flowers.
I feel as if nothing could go wrong.
It is as if I were in a world where no one was ever lonely.
I feel as if the day must never end, though it is already
sunset and growing dark.
My afternoon walk is over.
Here is a poem that I wrote about a year ago. It’s strongly grounded in place, as many of my current poems are, and in my mind, it continues to display an awe and appreciation for God’s creation. This is a ghazal, an ancient Persian form in which the speaker must mention him or herself in the last couplet, as well as (often) making a reference to alcohol or drinking.
El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Ghazal
Sun-gold between sea-smoke clouds at dusk
over low hills, shadowed cindercones, ocotillo
spindles against the sky. Cholla haloed
between heaviness and horizon, where night emerges.
Banded light, no trees, few cactus the backdrop
as wings of bats and moths beat.
Sea-dunes and lava-lands merge into visions
filled with sharp rocks, smooth yellow grains.
Pinacate beetles leave tracks on the dunes.
I follow, like a wine-dazed suitor, hopeful.
Even now, when I think about poetry, the natural world, and God, I remember one of my summer camp directors, the Reverend Bo Lewis, who blessed the waters of Watts Bar Lake in east Tennessee with words from our service for Holy Baptism. We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.To use part of a prayer from one of our two great sacraments and blessing the water around a camp demonstrated such a reverence for God’s creation and earth. To take that prayer out of the confines of a church building and out of a church service and to use it in middle of camp gave us a new custody of God’s creation, and a new way to see it, embrace it, live in it. Even water from a lake created by the Tennessee Valley Authority is God’s because it is water, and it is a powerful gift.
Ann Huston graduated from Austin College, in Texas, with a BA in Environmental Studies. She spent a year interning for the National Park Service in the Sonoran Desert and Four Corners area before receiving her MFA in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University. She currently works at a museum and does freelance editing and design. Her poetry can be found in Poecology; Flyway: Journal of Writing and the Environment; and Suspension. In her spare time, she enjoys all things outdoors, exploring, travelling, reading, writing, and drawing on her chalk wall.
She submitted the photos of Grace Point Episcopal Camp and Conference Center and Watts Bar Lake, in Tennessee.