Sunday, March 26, 2017

2017.03.26 Hail Mary/Ave María

Dios te salve María, llena tu eres entre todas las mujeres. El Señor es contigo. Bendita tu eres entre todas las mujeres y bendito es el fruto de tu vientre Jesus. Santa María madre de Dios, ruega por nosotros pecadores ahora ye en la hora de nuestra muerte. AMEN  

(Hail May, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb: Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. AMEN.)

Congratulations on your big moment, Mary: March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation (Luke 1) when the angel told you you were to be pregnant—with God, no less—and you said OK, adding a few questions of your own.  Good woman!

And congratulations to me as I remember the 29th anniversary of my priestly ordination on March 25th, 1988. Mary’s day in ancient times—and mine in 1988. We share.

I first learned to say the "Hail Mary" in Spanish when I spent a summer with a very pious family in Santander, Spain. In 1960, Santander was a smallish fishing town in northern Spain. Now it is my bank. I love the connection, and, despite complaints about questionable banking practices, I will never change banks. Nor will I ever forget Spain, the cradle of my devotion to Mary. I lived with a family who said prayers every single night. The Señora would clap her hands loudly like two small shofars, and we would all come running—for our food, yes, but first for our prayers. 

Lucia Perillo, who wrote this poem to Mary, was known for her humor and being shaped by living with multiple sclerosis. She was born in New York City in 1958 and died in 2016. I find her humor most attractive, because it does not attempt to hide truth but rather expose it. Perillo was a Pulitzer finalist, a blythe spirit. May she rest in peace and make angels laugh with her as they pray.
HAIL MARY

The worst of it was the fruit of thy womb business,
through which the boys muddled in pig-latin sniggers
but being a girl you thought of plums, then grapefruit,
a catalog whose offerings led incrementally
to the one in school who’d gotten breasts,
her mother alky and her dad a pencil mark rubbed out.
After the bell rang she bundled her sadness
and walked it home in her serious coat,
the kind of girl who carried an umbrella, whose socks
defied the gravitational tug. And if other prayers
had someone offstage fumbling sheet metal, this one
made the woof of a broom swatting a rug,
a rhythmic thump below the scream
of the laundry tree she sent off on its wheel
around the backyard like a minor angel
flapping underpant-and-towel wings.
Someday she’d get pregnant by the shy and not-
unhandsome captain of the variety baseball team
without even getting a bad rep; everyone knew
they’d marry quick and he’d die slow
from all those years of Red Man packed behind his lip.
But she wouldn’t have loved him if there wasn’t something
about him to work on; you know the type:
you loved her, you hated her
for ruling your life as penmanship queen,
and you wanted to be her friend except you knew
beside her you’d be dirt. As far as Hailing Mary,
all you wanted to do was get through its last word,
though everyone knew this death was second-rate.
A man-god could get you bread or heaven, but pray
to a woman and all you got was prayed for in return.

    Lucia Perillo, Luck Is Luck. Poems. Random House, 2005


Red Man, in case you didn’t know, which I didn’t, is chewing tobacco. But if you don’t pick the poem apart too much, which is a great temptation because you want to understand it, you get the full picture of a Roman Catholic girl trying to make good as she tries to grow more than breasts and wombs in a patriarchal world and Church full of Mary-Hailing. 

I was a Protestant girl of twenty-one in Spain, also trying to grow more than breasts and wombs while ingesting Catholicism on steroids—too much and never enough. I found a woman who prayed for me.

Yes, Perillo is right: when you pray to a woman all you get is prayed for in return. I will take it with gratitude and affection. Gracias, María, and all women who pray with open heart and blessed intention. I will pray back.




Sunday, March 19, 2017

2017.03.19 The Loveliness of the Sow

"To me, poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment."

Contemporary American poet Galway Kinnell, born in 1927 in Providence, R.I., said this. Kinnell, I first surmised, was Irish—I suppose because of the name Galway, which makes me think of the virtuoso flutist James Galway who is Irish, from Belfast, and sometimes know as “the man with the golden flute.”  Although our Kinnell was a New Englander, ending up in Vermont, where he died in Sheffield in 2015, and in which he was Poet Laureate from 1989-1993.

Kinnell also said: “Never mind. The self is the least of it. Let our scars fall in love.”


The quote about poetry being someone standing up and saying what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment brought to mind the biblical story (John 4:5-42) about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the town pump, so to speak. Jews and Samaritans were arch rivals, having very distinct religious practices. Nevertheless, the Jew and the Samaritan in this biblical story, made a kind of poetry with their theological conversation—debate really.

Jesus stood up with little concealment before a woman from whom he wanted a drink of well water. To her, a foreigner, a divorcée many times over, or perhaps a widow, and a woman whose religion and ethnicity the Jews did not countenance, Jesus revealed who he was on earth at that moment: the Christ of God with access to Eternal Life aka, “living waters,” and the slaking of all thirst forever.

The woman, for her part, likewise stood up with no concealment before Jesus in total honesty about her situation—not precisely sinful by today’s standards, but not exactly stable either, being on her sixth intimate relationship, this time with a man not her husband. Yet she was truthful, open, and theologically astute in her perceptions of this Jew. Jesus took due note.

And the poet takes due note of the loveliness of one of the most maligned creatures in God’s array of critters: the sow. St Francis blessed and beheld ever living thing as sacred. So must we.


Saint Francis And The Sow

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath
them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

© 1980 by Galway Kinnell  

Sunday, March 12, 2017

2017.03.12 Life's Blood—Born and Born again and Again

God, I feel sure, has many wombs. One is the baptismal font. Womb-like, it evokes birth and is filled with water, which breaks when we emerge. We are sealed by baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.

Another is the womb of Earth, the planet we call our island home. From it we derive all our nourishment and a full supply of water and air for Life. We cannot sustain biological life without this womb. It must be born again and again. Too often we take it for granted and abuse its rich yield— to our peril and to our shame.

Another womb is the womb of Incarnation: the womb of our own flesh out of which we birth God’s life over and over again. We live in this womb all our life, and each time we connect with enlivening feelings, we are born again. 

Finally, there is the womb of the tomb. From that womb, God births us back into Life forever in God’s own soul.

Here are two poems that bring the mystical experience of being born— and born again—down to  flesh and blood and embodying divinity at once. Both are by the Rev. Regina Walton, a colleague, poet, and Episcopal priest in the diocese of Massachusetts. Regina is the author of The Yearning Life. Poems 2016, Paraclete Press. With her permission and with gratitude, I share these poems.


AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL POEM

I started out small
And got smaller.
Loved, humiliated, self-enclosed.

Some days lifting up my hands,
Others carrying my cross
where my shoulders meet spine.

I was knit together,
And know I’ve knit someone else
Thoughtlessly

Not that it happened without a thought,
But surely
It wasn’t the thoughts that did it.

I bled out when he arrived,
So they filled me back up
With the blood of another.

Now I am the same
By half.
Thank you


FIRST DAY
   
The baby: hale and pink and strong and fine.
But beached and bleached, you are much less sanguine
And so, two pints of blood by plastic line
Leach their slow way into your opened vein.
The scarlet bags like lungs suspended from
The scarecrow pole, unwanted hanger-on
This trinity: child, mater, sire gone
To sleep in a hard chair.

                                     Now the bald sum
Of all your pains naps in a plastic bin.
Your web of tubes a tether to the bed;
The buzzing, ringing, beeping, healing din.
Who thought, on your first day, who expected
So soon, to find so much of yourself gone?
In time, you will get used to being wrong.



from Songs for the Cycle by Michael Hudson.

. . .Seek to grow as all things grow
and trust what grace assumes—
That time will manifest the Life
Received within the womb.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

2017.03.05 Steadfast Love

I, having loved ever since I was a child a few things, never
        having wavered
In these affections; never through shyness in the houses of the
        rich or in the presence of clergymen· having denied these
        loves;
Never when worked upon by cynics like chiropractors having
        grunted or clicked a vertebra to the discredit of these
        loves;
Never when anxious to land a job having diminished them by
        a conniving smile; or when befuddled by drink
Jeered at them through heartache or lazily fondled the fingers
        of their alert enemies; declare
That I shall love you always.
No matter what party is in power;
No matter what temporarily expedient combination of allied
        interests wins the war;
Shall love you always.

"Modern Declaration" by Edna St. Vincent Millay from Selected Poems. © Yale University Press, 2016.
My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night, but ah, my foes, and oh, my friends, it gives a lovely light!

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1852-1950) was born in Rockland Maine. Her mother raised three daughters on her own, after asking her husband to leave when Vincent, as Edna preferred to be called, was a child of seven. She was a tomboy who loved to write poetry. Her poem “Renascence” won a prize in a contest and earned her a scholarship to Vassar.

After graduation from college she moved to New York City’s Greenwich Village where she lived in a one-foot wide attic and wrote anything she thought an editor would publish. She and other writers were, according to Millay, “very very poor, and very very merry.” From her experience, and others like her I suppose, we get the romantic stereotype of the starving artist in the garret. At least we know these artists were merry.

Millay was openly bisexual and wrote a lot about female sexuality and feminism. In 1923 she won a Pulitzer for The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver. Millay, openly bisexual, married a widower Eugen Boissevain, a self-proclaimed feminist. They lived like two bachelors. Today we’d call it an open marriage. He died in 1949; she died in 1950.

Intense romantic love comes like a godsend and excites. To me the best kind of love is one that is steadfast—through thin and thin— something like the way the Bible describes divine love. Love is essential to human well being. There is nothing more glorious or soul-quenching than love. By its lack, love is soul-starving. Love is elusive and indescribable, though it is not fickle. Poets and profaners through the ages have tried to capture love in words. Glimpses must suffice.

Millay get to the eternal quality of love in her poem. She does not limit her affections to one  person but to just a “few things” all of which she will love always. This sounds impersonal yet the never-waveringness she describes is true love. It does give a lovely light.