The latest issue of Rock & Sling was launched and lauded at the recent 10th anniversary party in Spokane. Be sure to get your wooly mitts on a copy if you haven’t already.
We heard from some of our contributors at that celebration, and here’s the word from several others:
Ideas of Belief Within Language: Having grown up on the Flathead Indian Reservation, in a Native household, I was imbued with a deep sense of the natural world: its seasons, its weathers, its animals, the tracks they leave. In this family, I was also schooled in the belief of both a strict and forgiving Catholic God. Somewhere along the line, I mixed both God and Nature up in my mind, and now seem unable to separate them. For me, God is tangible in the natural world, and, having fought forest fires for ten years on elite hotshot crews (having “coyoted-out” in some of the most remote places in this country, places where no rational human being would even consider venturing), has only galvanized my belief: God is with us, both in us and around us. And, if we look closely to what is around us, really see, then it’s possible to witness God. Ultimately, this is what I try to do with language: witness God in nature, with both its almost unsayable beauty, and the oft-unbearable harshness that ensues. In the best poems, I feel I have contained some aspect, some fragment of God’s presence, put down in language the vague tracks of His being here, have made hymns of them to be sung quietly at a field’s edge as the mid-winter rain speckles down, and as the long herd of elk slowly move through it.
Since I was a child, I have been fascinated by the the sacrarium, the drain for sanctified matter, that goes straight into the earth rather than the sewage system. What happens to that sacred stuff once it returns to the earth? As a chaplain in an Episcopal school, I often pour consecrated wine down this drain in the sacristy after a Eucharist. The color of the wine is a golden yellow, and at the time I wrote the poem I was thinking about the stains that were left on the skin of those cleaning up from BP oil spill. I was also working to make sense—both emotionally and spiritually—of the spill and its destruction in the context of the resurrection, which I’m always working to make sense of!
Poetry is my tool for grappling with scripture and theology. I try to write my way through into understanding. The environmental destruction of the oil spill (and other human-caused disasters) evokes a my need for a twenty-first century theology. For example, the resurrection of the body—a medieval belief that we will rise from death and return our bodies. What can we mean now when we talk about this? As the medieval scholars struggled with the logistics of how we would receive back all our lost hair and fingernails, for example, I wonder how to understand resurrection in terms of the planet, in which so much dies and is reborn—like oil itself—from previous matter. I imagine the oil’s plumes, like Christ’s coming, as in both their beautiful creation and terrifying power.
One last and amusing note: when I went to the online Catholic encyclopedia to refresh my theology, the ad at the bottom of the page was from BP.
Since my diagnosis with inflammatory breast cancer in 2004, I have felt myself on a quest to understand the place of God within suffering. I have wrestled with the universal questions of why God allows the suffering of the innocent, whether God intervenes in response to prayer, and how to make cancer part of the purpose of my life. A portion of my journey has consisted of reading religious thinkers such as Pascal, Tillich, and Weil, but part of it has been a journey inward through meditation. Recently, I have begun Sufi meditation practices that complement my Christian faith. “Four Prayers for Forgiveness” grew out of meditations on four Muslim names of God, which subtitle each section of the poem. I have found the repetition of these names, along with breathing exercises, to be profoundly calming and spiritually healing. In the case of “Ya Tawaab,” the meditation also includes spinning in a much slower version of Dervish practice. Ultimately, these pratices helped me realize that I have to forgive my body, forgive my cancer, and forgive myself for my anger at God. During these exercises, and at times of great stress and sorrow, such as the death of friends from cancer, I believe that I have felt Christ’s presence. Though I will never understand God’s role in illness and pain, I accept that God is with me when I experience them. I included the Rumi epigraph after completing the poem, because it seemed to summarize the poem’s themes so perfectly, and because Rumi writes from the Sufi tradition.
Emily Van Kley
Having grown up as a queer pastor’s daughter in the rural Midwest, my experience with faith has been a confusing tangle of birthright, comfort, doubt, and grief. For the last five or so years, I have pretty much been at a loss to describe it even to myself. Though our tradition did not emphasize certainty as a necessary component of belief, these days my relationship with the God I knew as a young person has been supplanted by a near-complete disorientation––to try to think about or articulate some aspect of it is like stepping onto a northern prairie with the snow blowing, the space around me flat as a piece of paper, or vast and empty of all variation, nothing to observe or hold on to, no guide. Strangely enough, the longer this feeling persists, the more I find a kind of peace in it. There’s a release in unknowing, in neither fighting to retain nor reject. Living in a state of spiritual bafflement, I find it all the more important to appreciate those things I do recognize as sacred: like the friendship in “Take Care, I Love You,” like a lake so big it feels like an ocean, like the Dreamers––brave young people often risking everything they know of home to nudge this country toward policies of compassion. Writing poems feels like way to witness and participate in what I suppose I would still call grace.
Nathan E. White
A certain vast, mystical magnanimity governs dramatic portraiture—no matter how difficult the rendering. Hitting a moving target requires a proper lead.