Archive for category Poetry

Have yourself an untamed Christmas

It’s been a dark year, wouldn’t you say, what some have called the year of fear – disease, wars, refugees, all too much ugliness, violence, and generally un-imrs.phpevolved humanity.

Into that story of darkness and fear, the world as we often experience it, comes God-with-us: the Christmas story in all its wildness and weirdness (yes, I love the bath-robed shepherds and rosy-cheeked angels but the nativity story is decidely not cute.  See this good piece on innocuous pageants and a call for a renewal of the arts to help us reclaim Christmas).

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I often need help to scrape away the froth and cliche, bringing me back to the wild heart of Christmas. Poet Denise Levertov captures the right posture of realism and wild hope.

On the mystery of the Incarnation 

It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.

Denise Levertov

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Artwork credits:
Joyful Mystery (by Jim Janknegt)
Creadora de Luz (by Lalo Garcia)
Emmanuel: God With Us (by Laura Kestly)

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Bullied by “pretty”

I read this punch-in-the-gut story in today’s Globe and Mail of a young girl terribly bullied and driven to plastic surgery that made me want to scream!

I’m not blaming the girl.  She’s beaten down by a society sick with perfection.  I’m furious with this circus of painted-faces and altered bodies, ill with this illusion of what’s beautiful.

It all made me think of a great slam poetry piece (see below for video) from a post I wrote a while ago that seems appropriate again.  So here it is one more time, the blog post and Katie Makkai’s slam poetry wonder.

The mall is not my friend as a dad to two children, not hospitable to raising healthy human beings.  Sure, it provides clean and supervised play areas as well as interesting food courts with carousels but the rest of the place is a damn hazard.  And not because it is the temple of all things consumer – in fact, you don’t have to buy a thing there to pick up something far worse.  A simple stroll through the mall sends enough devastating messages to distort our character and wreck our moral imagination.  I can sift, sort and discern my way through this as an adult, but my kids simply absorb it all.

Maybe I’ve been been able to filter this out before, could be I’m becoming an old fart, or likely it’s because I’m dad to a daughter, but a recent walk through a local mall left me unsettled by the siren images in so many of the store-fronts.  Call me a prudish, Victorian, censorious, stuffy prig but I was shocked by the brazen sexuality on display in that mall (and I feel like I’m not easily shocked).  So many of the female models wear little clothing and the most prominent thing they do sport is a receptive open mouth, a come-hither gaze, or a coquettish pose.  If there is a male-female couple in the image, the female is usually draped over the male, pretzeled into a seductive embrace.  And this is not only the strategy of secretive Victoria but includes shoe vendors – even a children’s clothing store wickedly (I use that word with precision) hawks their goods with images of kids vogueing with faux seductive looks and poses.

I’m a fool to take my kids to the mall for an afternoon.  Strolling through this marketing gauntlet, my daughter is trained in what it means to be a woman in our culture: “Let your appearance be flawless; live up to an impossible standard of physical beauty; don’t bother with your character, intellect, or heart – your greatest asset is your body and it is a sexual tool – flaunt it.  Discretion limits you – the way to find worth is through a flaunting seduction.  Buy that perfect blouse, the right dress and you will be acceptable.”  And my son, already able to pick up most every nuance of any message, is discipled into what our society considers manhood by these images alone: “Women are for your pleasure – viewing pleasure, sexual pleasure.  Don’t engage them as real persons; they are beautiful bodies.  Keep them abstracted in your imagination as creatures of desire.  Dominate them, wear them like clothes that can be discarded when they are tired or out of style.”

Don’t misunderstand my ranting.  The human body is a glorious thing of beauty; sex is a spectacularly great gift of God; we are sexual beings.  But the whole of human is so much more!

I track this out ten years from now: what do I tell my daughter after all these messages have sunk deep into her anxiety-riddled psyche and she tells me how much she hates how she looks?  How do I help my son, bombarded with titillation and innuendo, to see women as far more than “how hot she is”?

Maybe you think it’s just me, a guy struggling with his own repressed sexuality, importing all my “stuff” into innocuous images in a store window; if so, give Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia a read.  Or check out this brilliant, moving video of slam poet Katie Makkai called “Pretty” (and if you find the f-bomb offensive, this video has one use of it – just so you know).

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The discipline of verse

After church on Sunday, I caught a bit of Michael Enright’s The Sunday Edition on CBC.  It was an encore presentation that included an extended piece on the resurgence of interest and acclaim in Emily Dickinson’s poetry (you can listen to it here).  Apparently, Emily Dickinson is having “a cultural moment.”  I listened with curiosity because earlier in the week I had picked up a volume of her poems we have at home and spent time with a few verses.  Apparently, I’m in touch with the zeitgeist of this cultural moment.

Poetry is one of those genres of literature I’m late in my love.  I pretty much had accepted the notion that poetry needed labourious analysis, was too highbrow or I just didn’t “get it.”  Yet I failed to realize how much poetry was already part of my life, in the daily reading of the Psalms and my love for music (essentially poetry set to music).  Now I’m finding regular reading of poetry keeps sharp an appropriate reverence for words and their power (watch a slam poet in action and you’ll feel the power of words).  In our world saturated with words that are spun or full of bluster, mangled and manipulated, savouring poetry is a healthy, not to mention enjoyable, discipline.

Eugene Peterson writes that “the first thing a poem does is to slow us down.  We cannot speed-read a poem.  A poem requires rereading.  Unlike prose, which fills the page with print, poems leave a lot of white space, which is to say that silence takes its place alongside sounds as significant, essential to the apprehension of these words.  We cannot be in a hurry reading a poem.  We notice connections, get a feel for rhythms, hear resonances.  All this takes time.  When we are reading prose we are often in control, but in a poem we feel like we are out of control.  Something is going on that we cannot pin down right away and so often we get impatient and go read Ann Landers instead … in poetry we take a different stance.  We are prepared to be puzzled, to go back, to wait, to ponder, to listen.  This attending, this waiting, this reverential posture, is at the core of the life of faith, the life of prayer, the life of worship, the life of witness.” (Take and Read, p. 55-56).

Back to Emily Dickinson, a prolific poet who had only four poems published during her life yet wrote 1,789.  Here’s a wise and lovely one I enjoyed last week.

Who has not found the heaven below

Will fail of it above.

God’s residence is next to mine,

His furniture is love.   (Life, XVII)

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