Monday, October 26, 2015

Day 3, Poetry as Prayer

Sunday was a very gray day. And our challenge was to write about shadow and light. The weather wasn't conducive to sitting outside, so I pulled my chair over and snuggled down and looked out the window. I wrote and wrote, but this is all I came up with...short and real.


Gloomy, gray and dull
a half-light day.
Shadows linger,
and this house shakes in the storm.

A pin-prick of light
That’s all I need Jesus.
Just a pin-prick.

Sheila Conner
Poetry as Prayer, 2015

4th Challenge

Not long after, this was the view...a pin-prick.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Day 2 of Poetry As Prayer, 2015

The rain didn't get us down. After playing with metaphors this morning, Richard gave us this photograph of a big leaf maple near his home in Canada. The tree has been partially chewed through by beavers, yet still it stands. We were invited to sink into the photograph and write our own poem. 16 people took 16 different directions. That's what I so appreciate about this time together. Everyone brings their own story and their own gifts.

My Prayer for Healing

Chewed, scarred, wounded,
Still standing,
half in shadow and half in light.
Lord have mercy.

still rooted
grounded in rich soil - your love.
Christ have mercy.

Scant sunlight filters above and all around.
Lift me up.
Fill my limbs with life and energy.
Lord have mercy.

Sheila Conner
Poetry as Prayer Retreat
October 24, 2015
2nd Challenge

After lunch, Richard challenged us again...this time, pick out a Bible passage, enter it, and write from inside the story, lectio divina style. I took a short nap, sat down, and wrote again.

On The Road To Nain
Luke 7:12-15
As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out -- the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry."

Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, "Young man, I say to you, get up!" The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

You saw her Lord.
Do you see me?
Do you see other mothers like me?
Do you see our children and their lost lives?
Look at me Lord. Look at us and see us.
Let your heart go out to us, Lord.
Do you see their coffins, Lord?
You touched his coffin that day.
What about our children’s coffins, Lord?
Coffins of physical pain and suffering,
addiction, loneliness, silence.
Coffins of hopelessness and fear,
resentment, and despair.
Touch those coffins, Lord.
Speak to our children and tell them, “Get up!”
Tell them, “Wake up!”
We want to hear our children talk, Lord,
to talk to you, to talk to us, to talk to each other,
to gain their voices, to speak their truth,
to share their stories.
Healing and relationships begin again
when we are seen and heard.
See them. Hear them.
See us. Hear us.
Give me back my sons, Lord.
See my tears, and hear my prayers.

Sheila Conner
Poetry as Prayer, 2015
3rd Writing Challenge

It always amazes me the depth of the poetry that comes on this weekend. Richard has a way of inviting us deep inside ourselves, and the results is some really good poetry from a beautiful group of people. Seven years of writing together has resulted in some pretty sweet friendships, some pretty intimate knowing.

Today (Sunday), will be our last writing adventure for another year. We meet for Eucharist at 11, then write and share until later this evening. And I'm praying the rain and wind lets up. This has been the only year we've had rain like this, so I think we've been very blessed. Fortunately, the rain has messed with the poetry.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Day 1, Poetry as Prayer, Hamsa's Return

Hamsa's Return

Hamsa*, the great wild Canadian goose,
has returned.

She appears about this time every Fall.
This is her 7th year.

She has a large clutch here on the Coast of Texas, 
having hatched out 16 this season. 
Her task is a formidable once, which she carries out swiftly, 
with not too little noise.

Her voice is not gentle dove-like cooing, 
but rather a loud disturbing honk! 
A sound which challenges 
(and consoles)
strong, not weak, even disquieting.

She swoops in, gathers us around her, and guides us 
through a weekend of creative grace, 
then off she flies, back to her native Canadian tundra.

And we wait, another year, for Hamsa to return.

Hamsa* is a Sanskrit word for a migratory bird, usually pictured as a swan or a wild goose. An “animal mask” of both the universal creative impulse and the self-realized saint. It “symbolizes the divine essence, which, though embodied in and abiding with the individual, yet remains forever free from, and unconcerned with the events of the individual life.” (Heinrich Zimmer), from The Yoga of Breath, by Richard Rosen.

And Hamsa, in this poem, is our own Richard Osler, flying in from Canada each Fall to lead us through a wonderful weekend filled with grace, a poetry-writing weekend, poetry as prayer.

This weekend we had a pre-writing assignment, and we shared our first poems last night. Here is mine.

Marking My World

(“What kept you alive
all those years keeps you from living.”
Li-Young Le

Remember the Marks-A-Lot?
the marker “whose ink stood the test of time”
permanent, resistent, never fading,
with its chisel tip on one end and bold point on the other?

The marker used to draw all kinds of shapes:
triangles, squares, rectangles, and parallelograms,
all boxes and containers that,

That marker could be used to write words in big, bold letters,
clearly visible,
rules that could not be broken,
lines that could not be crossed,
veiled threats meant to put us in our place,
to keep us from venturing too far:

“Curiosity killed the cat.”
“Children should be seen and not heard.”
“Nice girls wait to be invited.”
“Ladies don’t go without an escort.”
“A woman’s place is in the home.”
“A woman’s work is never done.”
“Better safe than sorry.”

Don’t just stand there and knock, Jesus.
Batter my heart*.
Break all the boxes.
Spill all the contents.
Life is messy.
I want to risk and live.

*from Holy Sonnets: Batter my heart, three-person’d God, by John Donne

Sheila Conner
October 23, 2015
Poetry As Prayer, Surfside
1st Challenge

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Words to My Son

I woke up this morning thinking of you and this place you're in. It seems to me that you may be experiencing what I have in the past called, "an invitation too sweet to refuse". Son, a person doesn't just decide to walk away from unhealthy relationships and their drama, to quit smoking, to stop taking their "drugs", to determine to even quit coffee, and to be "stimulant free" - well, he doesn't just make that kind of choice on his own. Something deep inside him determines it's time for a "new birth", and issues an invitation to a "new life". And it sounds so delicious, we just can't refuse it.

And dear old Fr. Richard Rohr was the first one to tell me, "You can't be born again until you die first." Who knew?

Anyway, I woke up very early this morning remembering a poem (an epic!) I wrote a number of years ago, entitled Born Again. I want to share the poem with you - it's long, but so too is the journey of new birth. As I wrote this poem, I became the baby being born, feeling the difficulty of being born. I don't think I had ever thought about what it felt like to be born. I knew what it felt like to give birth, and believe me, that's not easy, but the morning I wrote this poem, I was experiencing "transition" as the baby in the womb, instead of the mother giving birth, and I think, from the baby's point of view, it has to feel like death.

As I wrote the poem, I think I came to the conclusion, that you and I don't "choose" to be born again. That doesn't fit my old evangelical understanding, but babies don't make the choice to begin the journey from womb to birth. That choice is made for them because they outgrow the space they are in. You've outgrown your old space son. You don't have any choice but to be born again - or to die, because that's what will happen if you stay where you are too long. Now, I don't have a clue how long "too long" is - it's metaphorically speaking, of course.

So, before this letter gets so darn long that even a blog post won't hold it, this is the poem I wrote. I think it must have been about 2010? I think I wrote it before I went to Arizona (2011), which is when I think I "broke through that damn door" and was actually "born again". At any rate, this is MY experience of being "born again".  I told Scott McKay MANY years ago that I had been born again and born again and born again, many times...but this new birth was probably the most excruciating new birth of this lifetime. I think maybe it's the only time I truly "died" first. OK, so here's the poem...

Born – Again

Part 1, In Utero

Inside this small Evangelical Worldview womb,
With its safe, hard, well-defined parameters -
And The Book,
literal, factual, true,
66 books within The Book,
answers for life on every page,
and the God-Man, my ticket “home”,
There is no room for question or mystery,
story or growth.

If one doesn’t grow,
The womb that’s meant to give life
brings death, and
the Baby dies.

She chooses instead to grow,
and begins kicking against the
too-small, too-tight womb.

Her limbs tangle, wadding into a tight, little ball.
There is no room.

Her back is bent, her body is wound tight,
her head is too big for this small space.
Her fists doubled, ready to punch.
She kicks, hits, fights.

She can’t breath, and the
food no longer nourishes or satisfies.

There must be more.

Part 2, Transition

Violent Force begins the upheaval.
Her journey into the dark night begins.

The womb that once seemed so small,
now seems large compared to this “birthing tunnel”,
this  place of seeming death.
It is total blackness.  There is no room at all.
She is suffocating, yet
she is still being pushed by Violent Force.

This Baby would stop the journey if she could.
She would choose death if she could.

But Violent Force continues to push her
through this all-too-tight underground passageway.
The earth quakes and walls close in and bear down.
Violent Force relentlessly pushes her forward,
upside down,
scrunched tight, her arms pinned so close she can’t move,
legs extended, and her head pressed against a wall.

The damned door will not open.
and her head, too big, hurts as it presses
against the wall that won’t give.

Violent Force doesn’t relent, but instead
chooses to continue convulsing this baby
against that damned wall.

Surely the next contraction will result in blessed death,
and she waits for stillness to finally come.

Part 3, New Birth

The wall finally gives way,
and an opening appears.
Faster than lightning,
in the twinkling of an eye,
the Baby is born.
The unsettled disturbance is over.
The earthquake ends.

She has been born
into a new place,
a new space.

I am out! 
I am free! 
I can breathe!

Part 4, Adjustment
and Mother

New birth has brought her freedom
and room to grow—
but there is nothing familiar now.
And this place seems scary, too.

There is so much light she cannot see
and so much room, she no longer feels the edges.

Her legs flail and her arms grope.       
She reaches and grasps
for something familiar to hold onto.

Her old Evangelical Womb, with all its boundaries,
its Book, with all the answers
it’s God/Man, who is “the Way” -

Where has it all gone?
She can’t find her way “home”,
and this new place seems too big
too open, too free, too bright,
with so much light she cannot see.

Mother Mystery comes and wraps her warm blanket of Love
tightly around this little one
until she feel safe again.

And this place?
This new space?
Is it home?

She is so small, and
this new place is so big,
so unfamiliar.

The only language she speaks now is tears.
She wails for the safety of her old home,
for familiar food, for familiar boundaries,
to be held, to be understood

But wait, there is something now holding her.
She feels the arms of Mother Mystery
encircle her.

At last, for just a moment, peace comes
as she rests in her Mothers arms.

I don’t know where I am.
I have no ideas yet formed.
I am not comfortable here
but I have a feeling this new place is now “home”.
There is room to grow.
Eventually my eyes will become accustomed to this new light,
and I have a Mother who holds and carries me.

This new place is now home, albeit unfamiliar,
it is home.
And I suspect it’s at least as safe
as my old Evangelical womb.

Ok, so see, it is long. You only took 4 hours to be born, my quickest delivery, but Joe took 23 hours, so consider this a 23-hour birthing poem. 

I have no clue how long this process will take for you. I think mine took about 7 years before I felt the break through. Saints of old called it "the dark night". No matter what you call it, it's a death to an old way and a birth into something new. I am praying for you - for a safe delivery through this "transition" period. I love you. I believe in you, and I believe in God IN you. Transition is the most difficult part of giving birth. And in THIS process, you are both mother and baby, so, no, it's not going to be easy. It will be the most difficult thing you've ever done, but you will be born into a spacious new place, and a spacious new way of living your life. I have no clue what it will look like, or how it will feel for you, except there will be a place inside you that knows you've done it.  You've done the work, and you are a new person indeed.