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.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Poetry, Healing, and Community

From now through early June, the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC will be featuring an installation called FLUID:  Rhythms, Transitions and Connections, work by Francie Hester, Lisa Hill and Reecca Kamen.   Of particular interest to me is the blending of poetry with fabric art and Sculpture in Hester and Hill's piece " Words as Legacy – A Leaf of Knowledge.". This work was inspired by the words of Brendan Ogg, a young poet who died of brain cancer at age 20, and who was a friend of mine.

Brendan  and his family were members of the babysitting co-op in our neighborhood when our children were young.  I remember sitting for Brendan when he was quite small, but I got to know him well during the last year of his life, when we had several deep and important conversations about his passionate interest in and love of poetry,the poetry that he wrote both before, and particularly in the year after, his diagnosis and surgery for a brain cancer that proved fatal. I had the privilege of editing for publication Brendan's chapbook, Summer Become Absurd, which was published by Finishing Line Press in 2010, shortly after Brendan's death.  A gifted poet, he learned much from the experience of illness and limitation and wrote eloquently out of that experience.  Some of the poems in this volume were written during a workshop offered by the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts,  and I will have an opportunity to help perpetuate this gift when I lead a workshop on April 28 at the Smith Center, called "Finding our Voices, Telling our Stories.". More information is available here     

I found my own voice as a poet coming out of an experience of illness and loss:  a cancer diagnosis and the encounter with mortality that this can bring -- and did bring for me (some of my poems from this experience are included in my book Waving Back: Poems of Mothering Life20 years later, I found that this experience, and the paradoxical sense of grace that came with it, created a connection between me and Brendan, younger than my own children and living a lifetime in the last year of his life.  We will be exploring themes of poetry and healing later this spring at the Bethesda Writer's Center (May 27, 2-4), I will be reading with Margaret Ingraham (one of the guests at our recent  dean's forum on poetry and Scripture ) and friends of Brendan.  Our program will be entitled "Poetry of Loss and Life."

Brendan's story, his poems, and the lively artistic community that has sprung up in our neighborhood in his memory, all testify to the power of the arts to bring healing and deepen community, perhaps most of all in times of deep sadness and unbearable loss.  The events around his work this spring carry for me some deep insights into the mystery of Resurrection, and how we grow into that mystery through our creative work.

More on Brendan's work and story can be found at the website "Words as Legacyhttp://wordsaslegacy.com/".

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Holy Saturday - and “Rescuing Love”

Holy Saturday - that odd time between the deep grief and mystery of Good Friday and the at the moment unimaginable joy of Easter - draws me, in the years when I can make the time, into reflection.  This year I am recalling a passage I ran into when I was leading a study series on the 20th century spiritual writer Evelyn Underhill.  In a wonderful book called The School of Charity:  Meditations on the Christian Creed, she offers this quite lovely and insightful account of what we mean, in the Nicene Creed, when we say of Jesus that “he descended into hell” -- an event that is nowhere in Scripture, but did make it into the creed.  So what, we often wonder,does it really mean? Here is Underhill:

One of the few passages of spiritual value in the Apocryphal Gospels, and the only one that has left its mark on the Creed, is that which describes the coming of the soul of Chrsit into the unseen world of the departed:  His “descent into hell” to the rescue of those “spirits in prison” to whom the revelation of the Divine Charity had not been given on earth.  Some of the greatest of the mediaeval painters have found in that story the perfect image of triumphant love.  They show us the liberated soul of Jesus, robed in that humanity which has endured the anguish of the Passion, passing straight from this anguish to the delighted exercise of a saving charity.  He comes with an irresistible rush, bearing the banner of redemption to the imprisoned souls of those who knew Him not.  There they are, pressing forward to the mouth of the cave;  the darkness, narrowness and unreality from which He comes to free them, at His own great cost.  The awed delight of the souls He rescues, is nothing beside the Rescuer’s own ecstatic delight.  It is as if the charity self-given on Calvary could not wait a moment, but rushed straight to the awaiting joy of releasing the souls of men.  There is no hint of the agony and darkness through which He has won the power to do this.  Everything is forgotten but the need which the Rescuer is able to meet.
      That scene, if we place it -- as we should do-- before the lovely story of Easter and the Forty Days, helps us to an understanding of their special quality; and sets before us once for all Rescuing Love as the standard of Christian holiness, and its production in us as the very object of our transformation.  For this is our tiny share in that Divine action whih rings the supernatural charity right down into the confusions and sorrows of our life, to “save” and transform.  ( From The School of Charity: Meditations on the Christian Creed (1934; Morehouse), pp. 67-8.)

Two of my favorite poets, Denise Levertov and Scott Cairns, have found this a rich theme for meditation.  Denise Levertov’s “Ikon;  The Harrowing of Hell” can be found here  and Scott Cairns, speaking with delight out of the Eastern Orthodox tradition he has embraced, has two poems I know of on this subject (perhaps more):  “Into Hell and Out Again” can be found online here   and there is a wonderful movement about Jesus in  part three of his sequence “Three Descents”which you can read on the Image magazine website, here.

What if this is what the story is all about -- the “rescuing love” of a God who desires that all should come to life, and who shows us the way?  Not at all “who’s in, who’s out?” But the joy of a God who desires to draw everyone home, into the Mystery of Love -- and who has already begun this process.  For me this is a rich subject for meditation in this moment before the Easter celebration begins, and as we move into the season of this celebration.