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.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Remembering Seamus Heaney

I happened to be reading the final chapter of  Malcolm Guite's excellent book, Faith Hope and Poetry: Theology and the Poetic Imagination (Ashgate  2012) today, when I learned of the death of Seamus Heaney.  Guite uses Heaney to frame his argument and so this was a great revisiting of much that I have loved in Heaney's work.
         I met him once (Heaney) -- had a conversation with him about the work of David Jones in 1987 when I was living near Cambridge and Heaney was at Harvard.  We talked some, I remember, about Jones's preface to The Anathemata, and Heaney had a sense of "of course" in thinking about David Jones's portrayal of the artist as a maker and offerer of "signs" and of the sacramental quality of sign-making.  And hehad a poet's appreciation for Jones's craftsmanship and Celticity --Jones is very much a "poet's poet."  But what I remember best about the conversation was just Heaney's quiet, available human-ness. He gave me tea and we talked about his life at Harvard, in the fairly humble quarters he had in one of the houses on campus.   And about poetry -- I did not yet see myself as a poet -- was interviewing him in my role as a Jones scholar.  But the conversation quickly became just a good conversation between two people who cared about literature.  I didn't take enough notes to make the interview "usable" for my scholarly purposes, but I have always remembered and appreciated that encounter.  He gave me a signed copy, to give to my dad (a devoted Harvard alum) of the vilanelle he had written for Harvard's 350th anniversary.  I have it on my shelf still:  "To Russell Henderson, "Seamus Heaney, 1987"  It is now an even greater treasure.

        But reading Guite's book also reminded me of so much that I have loved in Heaney's poetry -- his ability to use language to help us "see things" afresh, to see down into the heart of life.  And I recall especially lines from his poem "North" about the way that a poet experiences language and the poetic process -- the "word hoard" that gives shape to our perceptions of present and past, culture and Reality.  You can read the whole poem here,  but what I love particularly are the closing lines:

‘Lie down
in the word-hoard, burrow   
the coil and gleam
of your furrowed brain.

Compose in darkness.   
Expect aurora borealis   
in the long foray
but no cascade of light.

Keep your eye clear
as the bleb of the icicle,
trust the feel of what nubbed treasure   
your hands have known.’