life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Monday, December 25, 2006

a blessed Christmas....

May the blessings of the God who came to earth be yours today and through the coming year. Wherever you are on your journey, may your steps take you on a path toward peace, health and good purpose.

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"not by prose alone"....

I ran across this snippet this morning in a book called Alternative Worship by two guys in the UK who are leaders of the emergent church there. The title of the chapter (the book is really a resource of worship rituals, liturgies, readings, stations, etc) is the title of this post: Not by Prose Alone. And it adds, I think, to the conversation that Marshall and I have been having regarding poetry and worship. (You might want to read our as yet incomplete discussion by referring to the comments to the post immediately preceding this one.)

Theology is sometimes called "Godtalk." Worship embodies styles and habits of talking about and to God. The nature of this speech or the tone of language is vitally important. Some critics of church tradition argue that our capacity for speech has been vastly reduced in the modern era. The poet Les Murray contrasts the terms "narrowspeak" and "wholespeak" to illustrate his thinking on ways of talking about God. He suggests that in recent times (modernity) Godtalk has been severely reduced to narrowspeak, the voice of reason--rational and didactic ways of talking, the discourse of prose. Narrowspeak has to "make sense," be explainable, and be easily understood by everyone. It is communication reduced to just words, words, and more words.

Wholespeak in contrast is a poetic discourse, mystical speech, a language which is "truly dreamed." This is very similar to Walter Brueggemann's appeal to the church to rediscover poetry rather than living by prose alone. Both Murray and Brueggemann argue that the church needs to rediscover wholespeak or poetry, rather than feeling obliged to adopt the language of modernity. We might call this the re-enchantment or re-mythologization of speech, where speech reflects the Christian imagination, recognizing the importance of symbols, images, "myths," and metaphors as well as sharing space and time with music and the visual arts. Truth can be carried or opened up just as effectively (or maybe better) by this kind of language.

What do you think?

(Not to detract from the main point of this post as expressed by the authors above, but I would add that the modern church is much more dependent on its poetic imagination "underpinnings" from the past than it knows or would dare admit. I would suggest that the same is true of modern science, and that both the western religious and scientific worlds are just beginning to wake up to the fact that the emperor has no clothes. That doesn't cause the emperor to have no value or validity in either realm. It just leaves her/him very cold and exposed. But let's leave that for another discussion.)

Grace and peace,


Friday, December 08, 2006

a poet's view of worship....

I have been reading the book The Cloister Walk (Penguin) by writer and poet Kathleen Norris. (It won NYT Notable Book of the Year when it came out.) Given the loss of metaphor in the modern world view, and the corresponding lack of value attached to it, the impact on Christian worship (and other areas of Christian practice) and especially faith has been quite profound and devastating. At least that's my opinion. I include below a some paragraphs--rather lengthy, I know--where she explores worship from a poet's perspective. Let me know what you think.

The ancient understanding of Christian worship is that, in the words of the liturgical scholar Aidan Kavanagh, it "gives rise to theological reflection, and not the other way around." We can see the obvious truth of this by shifting our attention to poetry, and entertaining the notion that one might grow into faith much as one writes a poem. It takes time, patience, discipline, a listening heart. There is precious little certainty, and often great struggling, but also joy in our discoveries. This joy we experience, however, is not visible or quantifiable; we have only the words and form of the poem, the results of our exploration. Later, the thinkers and definers come along and treat these results as the whole--Let's see; here she's used a metaphor, and look, she's made up a rhyme scheme. Let's stick with it. Let's teach it. Let's make it a rule. What began as an experiment, a form of play, an attempt to engage in dialogue with mystery, is now a dogma, set in stone. It is something that can be taught in school.

Let's return to our classroom setting, only this time we'll be exploring faith as well as poetry. A poem, as Mallarme´ once said, is not made of ideas but of words, and faith also expresses itself through that which is lived, breathed, uttered, left silent. If faith, like poetry, is a process, not a product, then this class will be messier than we can imagine. To make the poem of our faith, we must learn not to settle for a false certitude but to embrace ambiguity and mystery. Our goal will be to recover our original freedom, our childlike (but never childish) wisdom. It will be difficult to lose our adult self-consciousness (here the discipline of writing can help us), difficult not to confuse our worship with self-expression. (All too often the call for "creativity" in worship simply leads to bad art.)

(Skipping a paragraph)

Poets are immersed in process, and I mean process not as an amorphous blur but as a
discipline. The hard work of writing has taught me that in matters of the heart, such as writing, or faith, there is no right or wrong way to do it, but only the way of your life. Just paying attention will teach you what bears fruit and what doesn't.
But it will be necessary to revise--to doodle, scratch out, erase, even make a mess of things--in order to make it come out right.

When it comes to faith, while there are guidelines--for Christians, the Bible and the scaffolding of the church's theology and tradition--there is no one right way to do it. Flannery O'Connor once wisely remarked that "most of us come to the church by a means the church does not allow," and Martin Buber implies that discovering that means might constitute our life's work. He states that: "All [of us] have access to God, but each has a different access. [Our] great chance lies precisely in [our] unlikeness. God's all-inclusiveness manifests itself in the infinite multiplicity of the ways that lead to him, each of which is open to one [person]."
(skipping the rest of the paragraph)

The first time I went to a monastery, I dreamed about the place for a week, and the most vivid dream was of the place as a chemistry lab. Might religion be seen as an experiment in human chemistry? And the breath of the divine as the catalyst that sparks reactions and makes our humble institutions work as well as they do, often despite ourselves? Imagination and reason, those vital elements of human intelligence, are adept at dismantling our delusions. Both bring us up against our true abilities and our limitations. But we've gotten ourselves into a curious mess in the modern world. We've grown afraid of the imagination (except as a misguided notion of a "creativity" granted to a few) and yet are less and less capable of valuing rationality as another resource of our humanity, of our
religious humanity. We end up with a curious spectrum of popular religions, a rigid fundamentalism at one end, and new Age otherworldliness, manifested in "angel channeling workshops," on the other. And even religious institutions--I'll speak here of the Christian churches, because they are what I know--often manifest themselves as anything but Christ's humble body on earth. What gets lost in all of this is any viable sense of the sacred that gives both imagination and reason room to play.

Can poets be of any use here? I believe so, though I'm not sure of the reasons why. I may be doodling. But the sense of the sacred is very much alive in contemporary poetry; maybe because poetry, like prayer, is a dialogue with the sacred. And poets speak from the margins, those places in the ecosystem where, as any ecologist can tell you, the most life forms are to be found. The poet Maxine Kumin has described herself as "an unreconstructed atheist who believes in the mystery of the creative process," while my husband, who is both a lyric poet and a computer programmer, declares himself to be "a scientific rationalist who believes in ghosts." If, as Gail Ramshaw has said, "Christianity requires metaphoric thinking," if, as a Benedictine liturgist once said to me, the loss of the ability to think metaphorically is one of the greatest problems in liturgy today, maybe the voices of poets are the ones we need to hear.

I know this is long, and I want to type even more. (I've probably already gone beyond the limit allowed under copyright law. Forgiveness please, and thanks to Ms. Norris and Penguin.)

But what do you think?

I think the modern church and modern science are both suffering from the same problem.

Let me know.

The next several paragraphs are stunning. Perhaps I'll post them later. In the meantime...

Grace and peace,