Howth: “Spiritual Direction”

Dateline: Howth, Dublin, Ireland, overlooking the Irish Sea

The sun has poked up over Howth Head this morning and the sea is bright and blue. Howth harbor is a seal sanctuary, so the seals are rolling over slowly in the surf and the seagulls are harassing them with glee.

Last night, our writers group gathered at a local pub, Krugers, for a poetry reading by Ted Deppe from his forthcoming collection Orpheus on the Red Line (Tupelo Press, 2009). It’s a collection with great tenderness, wisdom, and a touching feel for the rough sides of ordinary life. I especially loved his poem “Houses of Hospitality” about Dorothy Day. I’ll try to get a copy and post it here.

In the meantime, below is one of Ted’s poems:

Spiritual Direction

Because she poked fun at the way his white robes
flew out behind him as he biked back
to the monastery for vespers

and then, recording her jokes in his journal,
he tried to recall each thing she’d said or done.

Because his hands shook when he phoned her
and later, when they walked beyond the gatehouse,
how the hills wouldn’t stop trembling–

he told himself he knew at least this much,
if the world shakes, pay attention!

Because of the long night, then, when he couldn’t not
think of her. Or the energy surging
through his ordered life, a wind

rising within him, the same energy he’d followed
long ago into the abbey, almost helpless again before it.

His reaching out of bed for his journal,
trying to describe the sound of her laughter
in the gatehouse corridor. As if God was leading him

away from the church, away even from God.
As if he was at last at the mercy.

-Theodore Deppe (from The Wanderer King).

Howth: No Second Troy

Dateline: Howth, Ireland, overlooking the Irish Sea

I made it to Howth, Ireland, just outside Dublin. Howth is the hook that goes out into the Irish Sea. It’s also where W.B. Yeats grew up and wrote his early poetry. My room looks out over the sea wall and tonight the moon is full, which brought us some wonderful tides today. The old abbey ruins on the hill are comforting in the moonlight and the buoys are calling out to the boats out for night fishing.

Yesterday, after arriving at 7 a.m., I took the Eirebus and Dublin Area Rapid Transit train from the Dublin airport to Howth Station. Then walked a half mile in the pouring rain to the King Sitric guesthouse where I’m staying this week. On the train was Yeat’s poem “No Second Troy.” It’s Yeat’s homage to the militant Irish freedom-fighter Maude Gonne. Yeats was in love with her. She was not in love with him. She advocated armed struggle to free Ireland from British rule. Yeats deplored violence and found it empty. In this poem, he compares her to that “face that launched a thousand ships,” Helen of Troy. Yeats found Gonne inspiring and she served as a poetic muse for him, but–like some political figures today–she stirred up a baseness in people that appalled him (“have taught to ignorant men most violent ways”).

No Second Troy
WHY should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great.
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?
–William Butler Yeats

Look for more from Ireland in the days ahead!.

A Taste of Eire

Oysters
by Seamus Heaney

… Our shells clacked on the plates.
My tongue was a filling estuary,
My palate hung with starlight :
As I tasted the salty Pleiades
Orion dipped his foot into the water. …

I’m headed tomorrow for Dublin and then the Dingle Peninsula. I’ve got my copy of the new Sister Fidelma murder mystery, Prayer for the Damned, by Peter Tremayne. I’ve got my Lonely Planet Ireland book. I’ve got my pocket Bible and a paperback of Seamus Heaney’s Station Island.

I’ll be attending a writers workshop in Howth, outside Dublin, with poets Ted Deppe and Annie Deppe, and non-fiction writer Suzanne Strempek Shea. I’m really looking forward to having concentrated time to rest and write.

Then I’m catching the train north to Belfast to visit Anthea McWilliams, founder of the HoiPolloi Dance Company. Anthea’s just completed a fantastic project called Slow Dancing Up Ireland. Part public performance art, part peace initiative, Anthea did sneak dance performances from the tip of Northern Ireland to the bottom of Ireland. She danced on country roads in response to the “sounds” of the land. Check out her project here.

Finally, I’m going out to the Dingle Peninsula to the region of the Gaeltacht, where Irish is still spoken, to visit the ancient monastic beehive hermitages and make the pilgrimage up Ireland’s Holy Mountain (Mt. Brandon).

I’m also planning on downing Irish oysters and tasting a Guiness or two! Look for updates from the Emerald Isle..

The First Lesson in Agriculture

In further thoughts on foodsheds, I once interviewed the wonderful farmer-poet Wendell Berry who said:

When you take away the subsistence economy, then your farm population is seriously exposed to the vagaries of the larger economy. As it used to be, the subsistence economy carried people through the hard times, and what you might call the housewife’s economy of cream and eggs often held these farms and their families together. The wives would go to town with eggs and cream once a week, buy groceries with the proceeds, and sometimes come home with money. Or they’d sell a few old hens, that sort of thing.

So that’s the first lesson to learn about agriculture, as far as I’m concerned: It needs a sound subsistence basis. People need to feed themselves, next they need to feed their own communities. That’s what we’re working for now. We want to develop a local food economy that local producers will supply and that the local consumers will support. It’s ridiculous that we should be importing food into this state while our farmers are suffering.

.

“Cut Loose the Body” quoted by U.S. Catholic Bishops

Joe Ross and I are very grateful to have our Cut Loose the Body: An Anthology of Poems on Torture and Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib Paintings mentioned in the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ study guide Torture is a Moral Issue.  See the quote below and consider downloading the study guide:

Torture raced to the center of public attention in 2004 when startling photographs depicting prisoner abuse by American soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were published and broadcast widely.

While our primary, immediate concern in this discussion guide is about the possible use of torture by the U.S. government, an organization known as the Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition (TASSC) reminds us that torture currently is practiced by more than 150 governments of the world. Those who are tortured include the apolitical and the politicized, says TASSC. In chapter 4 of this discussion guide, we’ll listen to the voice of a survivor of torture who was taken captive because her work with poor children in Latin America was considered suspicious.

“We thought the word was gone.… We thought ‘torture’ belonged to a foreign language.… We were wrong,” write Rose Marie Berger and Joseph Ross, the editors of a book of poems and paintings about torture titled Cut Loose the Body (American University. Washington, D.C. 2007).

Is it surprising that in our third millennium torture has emerged as a matter of great public concern? Perhaps not, and we’ll discuss the reasons why as this chapter unfolds

It surely isn’t surprising either that Catholic leaders speak out about torture. Why? First, torture is a moral issue for the Church. Second, as a participant in its surrounding world, the Church wants to contribute to society in positive ways, by sharing insights and values related to the most pressing matters of the times.

.

The Flat-Coat Retriever of Grace

I have a bumper sticker that reads: “Lord, help me to be the person my dog thinks I am.” This is a theological replacement for my shy and vulnerable mid-20s angst which shrink-sized to “I think your karma just ran over my dogma.”

In poet Denise Levertov’s poem “Overland to the Islands” she lets her imagination map out her way to God:

Let’s go—much as the dog goes,
intently haphazard, …
dancing
edgeways, there’s nothing
the dog disdains on his way,
nevertheless he
keeps moving, changing pace
and approach but
not direction—‘every step an arrival.’

My dog is like this. Always exuberantly joyful. Always forgiving of my many faults. Where I fail in hospitality, she welcomes friend and stranger alike. When intellectual theology fails, my dog nudges me back to the heart of my faith w-a-l-k. (No, sweetie, not right now.).

Review on “Cut Loose the Body”

More reviews on Cut Loose the Body: An Anthology of Poetry on Torture and Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib edited by Joseph Ross and myself. This one from Robert Giron over at Chez Robert‘s. There are still some copies of Cut Loose available through D.C. Poets Against the War.

Here in this short chapbook, we have a variety of poets who have spoken out against the injustices committed by civilized humans within our lifetime, yet Myra Skylar’s poem The Infinite Regress of War speaks to the history of influence:–

…Poet, if I put your words
inside my poem, have we not crossed over

into one another?

–For the import of this collection is to make the reader–yet sadly the ones who need to read this more than others will probably not read this–reflect and perhaps be moved to action to stop injustices from happening in this world which we must all share, regardless of cultural or political background.

Read the whole review here..

Tracking Jesus Inside the Empire

I moved to Washington, D.C., in 1986 for a nine month internship with Sojourners community. Twenty-two years later, I still live in D.C. I’ve lived in three different houses, all in the same neighborhood of Columbia Heights, all within four blocks of each other.

Rooftops in Columbia Heights
Rooftops in Columbia Heights

I still work for Sojourners. Over the 22 years, I’ve had five different jobs for which I was more or less paid: peace ministry intern, director of the internship program, assistant editor, associate editor, and poetry editor. (On the side, I also freelanced as a pastor/worship leader; had a few horticultural gigs working at the greenhouse and herbarium on the grounds of the Washington National Cathedral and a landscaping job for a military retirement home; taught poetry classes; led retreats; and proctored the tests for those taking the GREs.) I live six blocks from where I work.

Even though I live in the capital city of the most militarily powerful country on the globe, my “world” has remained relatively small and contained. I didn’t intend to stay in one place for so long. My desire was to be much more itinerant—owning little, moving frequently, living in the moment. A “bird of the air,” a “lily of the field.” More along the lines of a free-wheeling St. Francis, rather than a cloistered St. Clare.

But, it turned out to be “otherwise,” as poet Jane Kenyon puts it. And I’m extremely grateful for the “otherwise.” I realize now that this accidental vow of stability has rooted me in a neighborhood and given me a perspective on events that I might have missed … otherwise.

It’s given me a perspective on empire and Pax Americana from the vantage point of those who live 20 blocks from the White House, in the District’s Columbia Heights neighborhood that has had a 30% poverty rate and 11% unemployment rate all the years I’ve lived here.

This experience now leads me now to explore a “theology of place” in urban America from the vantage point of my 100-year-old row house in Columbia Heights.

That’s what you’ll find on this blog … questions about place, people, transition, rootedness, dispossession, owning, stewardship, urban biophilia, green cities, blocks abandoned by empire, oral histories, cracks in the architecture of despair, city planning, urban ministry, city theology, the art of the unexpected, indigenous urban worship, beauty breeding hope, poetry, murals, magical urbanism, guerilla gardening, bible-busting, and tracking Jesus through the back alleys and side streets of “the most important city in the world,” as an obnoxious advertisement for Riggs Bank used to say.

I’m hoping it’ll be the most amazing pilgrimage one can take without ever leaving home.

.