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…it is difficult for poets to remain acceptable or contented party men; they ask too many questions.
Dorothy Sayers, in the Introduction to her translation of Dante’s Purgatorio
I just feel it would be a shame to let all these questions just disappear. I wish everyone in the archdiocese would give the Bishop their own answers. If we have 100,000 people (I have no idea how many Catholics in the Archdiocese of KCK), I bet we’d have a hard time getting 100 people to respond. In other words, there’s really no danger in asking questions, because so few people will even answer. And the upside is that you discover the nth % who do respond. They are likely to be willing to do other hard things.
Plus, even a few answers to good questions is better than 1000 answers to lame questions. And, yes, I’m asserting that the questions asked in the Bishop’s listening meeting were lame. Their focus was on eliciting pats on the back for the Bishop, who definitely deserves many, many pats on the back. My point is not that any positive feedback was wrong, as there is so much to be glad for in our archdiocese, but that much helpful feedback was omitted from the process due to what I believe is an unnecessary avoidance of tension. If we cannot be comfortable among ourselves, as Catholics, voicing things that are hard to say, how in the world will we learn to say hard things to the world that is dying for lack of those truths??
I’m sure the archdiocese and the world will go on without my input, and I really do believe that God is at work here. I do not so much despair of some good being done as remain sad for the much more that might be done if we could all communicate with more honesty and effectiveness. I am tired of being told I am ahead of my time. Christ has come, so the time for Christians is now.
Once more, and in conclusion, I would like to reassure everyone who sees a post like this and worries about me (Is she angry? No. Is she dissenting? Absolutely not. Is she disrespectful? Not a bit of it. Is she upset? Nope.). I am fine, happy, content, respectful, orthodox, cheerful, and confident that I’ve done all I need to do in response to the questions I was asked, and those I was not asked. Meanwhile, I will, if you don’t mind, remain sad, because Fr. Giussani taught us that sadness is the opposite of despair. Because I do hope, I hope for better communication and visioning in our archdiocese.
May God bless and keep Archbishop Naumann, and make His face shine upon him, and give him peace.
I created this talk for Benedictine College’s Symposium on the New Evangelization. It’s about the role art can play in helping us realize our ideals of virtue and holiness. I linked G.K. Chesterton, his character Innocent Smith (from Manalive) and St. Francis of Assisi to show how Chesterton wove the things he loved most about St. Francis into his character, and thus drew all that joy and abandonment to God a bit closer to himself and his readers.
Quoting Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis, his own biography and autobiography, Manalive, and Orthodoxy, I moved back and forth between the character and the saint, the ideal and the imaginative realization, to suggest that we need such imaginative bridges to move toward full appropriation of supernatural joy, toward holiness. That art may serve to help us realize ourselves more wholly, more fully without any violation of the art, the ideal, or of our own being suggests that Catholics would do well to enter in to the work of creating stories, poems, paintings, and other works with the goal of becoming saints in the process.
Did you know YOU are a poem? Check out Ephesians 2:10, where the Greek ‘poema’ is usually translated ‘workmanship’. I like ‘poema’ better, as it implies beauty and artistry, but ‘workmanship’ is nice.
I’ve discussed the importance of poetry, poetic education, poetic imagination and poetic reading in many different venues (many of the talk topics you see here relate to this theme). I’ve also used my own poems as lenses through which to view aspects of the spiritual life.
For several years, I hosted a Living Poem Society get-together during which we poets shared our current works and discussed the motivation, layers of meaning, word choices and life experiences that helped form each poem.
I hope to re-animate that group one of these days, but, until then, I’m working on a small volume of my poetry, for which I’ll include notes about that sort of background material that can help readers understand each poem more deeply. The title for that work-in-progress is A Destiny to Burn. Here’s the story behind that:
Artist Rose Shopen Klassen gave me an intricately carved candle and, when I said I’d never light it (because it was so beautiful), she told me “A candle has a destiny to burn that will not be fulfilled unless you light it.” That phrase became a poem of mine (Destiny to Burn), and I still love to say it over and over, it so resonated with me!
If an artist has to learn anything, it is how to be utterly spent on the doing of one’s work. Granted the skill to do it, there is still the mountain to climb of learning to pour out the self into works of art, most of which will be given away freely. This candle (I did and do light it, briefly…still hard to let it disappear completely!) reminds me to let myself be burned away in the living of my life, in order that Christ might somehow shine through all that is me, all that I do, whatever I create.
Here’s a collection of my talks that feature poetry, poems, or poetic formation.
Benedictine College hosted a Symposium for Advancing the New Evangelization in 2014. The theme was Transcendentals as Preambles to Faith, and I got to propose my take on that as a paper. Anyone who knows me could probably have bet good money I’d do something ‘three dimensional’ with that, and they’d have won those bets.
We need writers and artists who can translate Truth, Beauty and Goodness into form. In that academic environment, leaders are trying to keep students from becoming flat, one-dimensional eggheads by having conferences like this where ideas are pushed down into the ground of reality and practice.
In that light, my approach was to call listeners to the messy and non-ivory-tower world of actually engaging in the work of making art. You don’t have to be a great artist to get a great deal of good from learning to draw, write poetry, play an instrument. What those struggles do for you is prevent idea-olatry – the substitution of knowledge about art for the actual experience of trying to communicate ideas in real (and often inept, frustrating, messy) form.
The greatest moment was when my own pastor said, “I want to get back to painting,” after sitting in on my session!
Here’s an article I wrote for the great Tuscany Press site, based on this talk: Tapping Into the 3D Imagination – Realizing Person Through Art.
For the National League of American Pen Women, I got to tell the surprising story of my book, Souls at Rest – the inside scoop for fellow writers and artists. People understandably think I’m a bit crazy for self-publishing the first edition of SAR instead of going the more conventional Real Publisher route. (It is now available from a Real Publisher: Angelico Press!)
But, since the whole process had been sort of upside down and backwards already, getting to a Real Publisher in this round-about way was just par for the course. My motivation was not market-based, for instance. I had no idea, when writing, who my audience would be.
So differently from preparing a talk, when I’m avid to know who I’ll have in front of the podium, I wrote this for every Catholic, hoping, actually, that they’d all want to read it – improbable as that is. I’ve spoken with college students, men, women, children, at-home and working moms, teens and old people about Sabbath rest, and we all of us need to think more about it, I can promise you!
Anyway, these ladies weren’t especially interested in the Sabbath content…just the experience of self-publishing. But they understood that my process was upside down when I told ’em how much it cost! Lucky for me, the days of vanity publishers getting authors to shell out upwards of $5,000 for a garage full of their new books are over. I was able to publish Souls at Rest on an as-purchased basis with only the costs of paper, ink, and a lovely professional book cover to add to my hundreds of hours of (free?) labor.
I considered myself well-invested in something I’d have been happy to give away. Again, lucky for me, the print-on-demand publishing option did save me the cost of continually photo-copying my book for my enthusiastic spiritual director. Those gals with vows of poverty are happy to give everyone’s stuff away freely!
As for backwards, I am that part of the equation. God must have a sense of humor to put someone so technically challenged in charge of a word processor, mirrored margins, footers, headers, and FTP uploads! As for ‘platform’ I had zero, and one is told one needs a substantial one of those in order to market one’s books. It has all been a humbling experience, and turned into a surprisingly rollicking sort of talk for these literary ladies.
I’d love to discuss this again, with the more perfect vision of further hindsight, and the Rest of the Story.