View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Clerihews - and sacramentalism in poetry

I submitted a few clerihews to Gilbert this morning. Compiling my poems led me to think about submitting again - I have neglected to do so in a while.

I will also be sending out some haiku. I still have to edit some of the poems in the new poetry blog. If I am going to claim to be a poet, I need to work at my craft.

Last night, while watching a college basketball game - I am a big fan of Syracuse University, now 14-1 - I was glancing though a collection of recent Catholic poetry - Place of Passage: Contemporary Catholic Poetry.

Edited by David Craig and Janet McCann, this 2000 collection includes some familiar names (at least to me) - Fr. Murray Bodo, Ernesto Cardenal, Annie Dillard, Robert Lax, Denise Levertov, Fr. Thomas Merton, and some Polish poet named Karol Wojtyla. I discovered some new writers as well.

In her introduction, McCann notes that "For Catholics poetry is a major element of daily life, whether we think of it that way or not."

No argument from me there.

She then goes on to touch on something I've been thinking about in terms of Catholic Culture.

"Sacramentalism is the basis for the Catholic understanding of the visible and invisible worlds. For every one of us for the 'casual Catholic' to the most orthodox believer, sacramentalism gives access to the sacred and defines our associations with it. From birth to death, the living symbolism of the sacraments issues forth in words, and gives a sense of the numinous to daily experience."

She cites music as a "further vehicle of our expression. Rhythms of all kinds direct our hearts and words of our belief." I was reminded of the rosary, so important a part of the daily prayer lives of so many; the morning prayers I try to say each day; the hymns we sing and love to play.

"It tends to be this emphasis on the sacraments that distinguished Catholic poetry form other kinds of Christian poetry," she continues. "The symbols themselves are alive, points of contact between the daily and the divine. They allow active participation in the spiritual life."

On reading that again this morning I am reminded of St. Therese and the movie we watched yesterday. Her "Little Way" involved doing the simple tasks in life with an awareness that even the most mundane task can be prayer. We can serve God in every action, and every action, when we are mindful, becomes prayer. I have been working on a poem about shoveling snow as prayer - and it dawned on me that the underlying sacramental idea behind the poem is precisely what St. Therese - and McCann - were talking about. And I am reminded of the notions of the Practice of the Presence of God - praying continually as we do routine tasks, turning those tasks into prayers.

As a writer, as a poet, I have to be conscious of the sacramental nature of what I do. Such a sacramental awareness makes it difficult to be coarse or cruel or crude. Is what I write worthy of the title "prayer"? If not, then should I write it?

That does not mean that everything has to be pious and holy, and, by extension, sappy and sober. Be funny. Be honest. Be real. Be challenging. Be joyful (like those monks in Into Great Silence going sledding).

But be aware. Be conscious. Be prayerful.

Is what I write truly a point of contact with the divine?


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