About Me

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I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Postpartum creation

I'm in kind of a wierd "postpartum" mode, having spent the last month wrestling into shape an article that is a combination of personal memoir and reflection on the poet and artist David Jones, who was for so many years the focus of my labors, and is coming into my life again. I'm going to be part of a conference at Cathedral College in February on "Faith, Art and Poetry in a Post-Christian Culture" -- publicity going up soon, but it will be February 27-March 1 and the middle of the conference will focus on Jones's work and what he has to say about art as a sacramental activity, and about the challenges that face us as artists who work in a tradition that has shaped us profoundly but whose language is increasingly inaccessible to the world.

That wrestling-into-shape process touches something deep: It can seem like a cliche but giving shape to a creative piece - a poem or an essay is an intense kind of prayer that brings together the discipline of craftsmanship and a kind of passionate focus on this one thing, a desire for it to "come right," and days of bleakness when it just won't. And now that it's sent out, anxiety returns about whether what "came right" for me in the creative process will speak to anyone else. But the experience itself is an experience of prayer - while I was involved in the process, it was something I couldn't leave - (any more than a woman giving birth can really comply with the coaches who say "don't push!"). And something has come out of it, and shaped me in the process of its emergence.

I like to think that in giving myself to that creative process in writing, I am also opening myself to something like the creative Passion of the divine logos, "himself not made, maker of sequence and permutation in all things made" as Jones puts it. I am spent now, by that encounter -- curious to see what will come out of it, but knowing it will be awhile before I can see it. Not exactly exhausted, not burnt out, but fully "spent." It's frustrating because it means I can't really get started on something else. But that's also a part of the experience: When God was spent, after all the labor of Creation, he rested. That's what I need to do now.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Patio Thoughts - co-creation

I've been reading around this summer -- poetry, especially Mary Oliver, and some good writing about vocation and discernment by Sam Portaro and Sharon Daloz Parks. A theme that bubbles up through this reading is the idea of "co-creation" as a way of thinking about our call to faithfulness and discipleship. Portaro, in his new book called Transforming Vocation, uses the first chapter of Genesis, in which God creates the world and calls it "good" - and the making of the world seems to be an expression of who/what God is -- as a beginning for a theology of vocation. What we experience as intimations of the divine, whether subtle or overwhelming, at various times of life, are actually invitations to participate in God's ongoing creation: we "co-create" our lives, paying attention to who we are, what seems unique about each of us as individuals, and what draws us to care and desire to be part of something, to find and to create meaning in our lives and in our communities?

Phyllis Tickle entitles her recent memoir The Shaping of a Life. I like her title because it names the vocational task as a creative activty. My theology of vocation says that we are never doing that shaping alone - we are shaping and consenting to be shaped: that means being attentive to who we are, who we are related to, what challenges us, what kind of work feeds and delights us, what kind of brokenness we feel most deeply in the world. And all of this brought back to the One who made us and who mysteriously desires that we should grow into fulness (I keep returning to a saying of Irenaus of Antioch that I've seen translated "The glory of God is the human being fully alive." )In Latin it's "Gloria dei vivens homo.")

Fully alive: One of the things I've always liked about the academic schedule is that I get these these wonderful open summers, when there's lots of writing to be done but also contemplative time, time to grow and "be alive." When I sit on my patio, I write in my journal, but I also listen to the birdsong and look at what's around me - and at other times of the day, I spend time gardening. Here is an activity that's REALLY about co-creation. I'm an inexpert gardener, figuring it out as I go along, but it is a new and wonderful experience to me to find that small tasks I perform -- pulling out weeds, watering, or, yesterday, giving a big dose of "compost tea" -- made from our own yard trimmings and kitchen scraps -- to the tomato plants -- leads to new growth. Without analyzing it all intellectually, I find I learn about gardening by getting to know my plants, their preferences for sun and shade, and when they bloom or bear fruit, there is a sense of miracle about it -- I've put in some work, but what comes back is God's creation. I see that it's no accident that spiritual writers have often recommended gardening as a contemplative practice. That's what it's becoming for me.

And since especially during the academic year I'm in the business of "formation" -- teaching, spiritual direction, reflecting and teaching about vocation, I'm paying attention to the give-and-take involved in gardening: a lot of it is looking/listening/paying attention to what's needed, then doing a small thing to feed or direct new growth. But it's God who gives the growth. The real formation that is going on right now is happening in me, as I learn this in a more direct, intuitive way than I can express in words.