She walks

I came to poetry rather late in my life. Actually, I came to literature rather late. After high school English classes, I read almost no poetry and no fiction during my college and graduate school studies. Other than a course titled “Christian Faith and Contemporary Fiction,” a few poetry assignments for a transformation intensive, and a course that featured the writing of Elie Wiesel, my reading was very focused on philosophy, theology and biblical studies. I read voraciously, but I had definite reading goals that were aligned with my educational goals. I was pretty driven as a student. I set goals and achieved them. Not to brag, but I graduated with highest honors from college and graduate school. That focus, however, came at a cost. I was doing very little recreational reading during those years.

After graduation, I satisfied my natural hunger for literature by writing prayers, which often were quite poetic. I began to read fiction, but initially focused on stories and essays to enhance my preaching. As I developed a storytelling style of preaching, I read more fiction though it was often geared to philosophical fiction. Meanwhile, preaching and writing liturgy was satisfying my need to create.

During graduate school, I succeeded in publishing a poem in a denominational journal. I can’t remember how I decided to write the poem, but it was one of several that I wrote as reflections on a part time job I had as a church janitor. A year later some of my professional writing was published in a professional journal and I set myself the goal of publishing a book by the time I reached the age of 30.

I have yet to achieve that goal. It seems that most of my post-graduate school goals took longer than I expected. I sometimes joke that it took me 30 or 40 years to gain 3 or 4 years of parish ministry experience. There are lots of real world challenges that one encounters outside of a formal academic setting that cause a realignment of objectives and goals. When setting goals as a student I did not consider the impact of becoming a father on my available time and my life’s goals. Nor did I expect the growing passion for the pastoral ministry, worship design and leadership that developed in my life.

For most of my career writing prayers, crafting sermons, and professional writing satisfied my creative urges. About 15 years into my career I began writing educational curricula materials. That grew into an extension of my career for the next quarter of a century. I wrote and edited for many formal faith formation curricula published by several denominations. Curricula tops the list of publications in my CV and my only published books are curricula.

Twenty-eight years into my career, I undertook the discipline of daily journal writing as part of a sabbatical that served to refocus my ministry. A year later I began to publish my journal on my personal website. My preferred genre for my writing has definitely been personal essay ever since.

Around that same time, I started to read more poetry and expanded my reading of fiction. In conversation with high school and college literature teachers, I began to read through reading lists assembled for students. Discovering that I had a definite gap in my education when it came to classical literature, I would go through the books on the reading lists attempting to fill that gap. Along the way, I rediscovered a love of poetry. I also found that reading poetry enhanced my skills for writing prayers and my prayers became more poetic in nature. That was reinforced by additional work I did studying and teaching the prophets, especially focusing on Isaiah. I began to collect books of poetry and always have one or more volumes on my reading shelf. Retirement has given me even more time for poetry and I read poetry nearly every day.

In my time as an Interim Minister of Faith Formation I made it a practice to write a prayer for each class that I taught. Rather than begin classes by reading the prayers of others or praying off the cuff as pastors commonly do, I began to prepare for teaching by writing a prayer focused on the students, the topic, and current events. Those poems were often in the form of poetry in part because I was teaching Isaiah among other topics.

Now retired, I belong to a poetry writing group that meets twice each month. We have a poetry prompt for each session and roughly two weeks to produce a poem on a common theme. In addition, we receive and write to two additional prompts in each meeting of our group. I am especially taken with the out of class prompts for which we have time to write more polished poetry.

The prompt for last night’s meeting was a quote from Thich Hat Hahn: “The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling in the moment and feeling truly alive.” I tried to write a poem about the care of creation, as our group also has a challenge to produce poetry for an Earth Day celebration toward the end of April. However, as is often the case with my poetry, the process led me in another direction focusing instead on the connection between justice and Creation care. I’m still heavily influenced by Isaiah’s call to justice. Here is the poem I wrote.

She walks

She walks
8K every day
Barefoot on dirt path
She walks
Baby on her back
Toddler by her side
Jug on her head
She walks
Every day
Empty is light
20 liters heavy
She walks
Family of five
Needs 75           
Four trips a day
She walks
Once a well
In the center of town
Now is dry
She walks
The desert grows
Nowhere to move
Just to survive
She walks
Faces scrubbed
Tin cup in hand
She watches her child
She smiles
She is strong
She will endure
She feels alive
She walks

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