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Unto us a child is born

Unto us a son is given …

and authority will be on his shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

Merry Christmas to you and all you hold dear in your heart.

2021

Seems to me that words have emotional lives: some retain their vibrancy; others, relegated to bone piles. That’s where revision is critical, because serious readers look for depth that resonates or challenges the human condition—at least that was what I thought until I came across the word, praise, depleted in my perception.

Yet, it appeared on the dedicatory page of Mary Oliver’s book of poems, Why I Wake Early (2004): “Lord! Who hath praise enough?” a line taken from “Providence,”composed by the priest-poet George Herbert in seventeenth-century England. Through relishing Oliver’s poems drawn from her Provincetown morning walks, I awoke to the wordlessness of praise: more an attitude toward the unfolding of creation in pristine moments than windy definition.

In Oliver’s artistic process, I sense praise empowered her co-creation with God who disciplined her senses, helped her search for apt words, then clothed revelations with simple, often one-syllable words; their explosive energy still jars her listeners, readers, and decades of fledgling writers who have sat in her classes and workshops.

Her poem, “Snow Geese”, describes such an experience: the flock, “being the color of snow, catching the sun,” their rapid flight leaving her bereft with painful/delightful longing. She concludes: “What matters/is that, when I saw them, /I saw them/as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.”

Another poem, “Look and See” concludes with heart-prayer: “Oh Lord, how shining and festive is your gift to us, if we only look and see.”—After having been regaled by a gull’s pink foot casually scratching its stomach of white feathers as it sailed overhead.

Such gifts are always offered and elicit praise within the openhearted—but as George Herbert says, there’s never enough…

Like poets and priests, storytellers bridge the gap between the seen and unseen worlds. A Presence hovers over their tales, one that disturbs listeners. It’s all about conversion of life.

One such storyteller is Min Jin Lee, Korean American author of Pachinko, a finalist in the 2017 National Book Awards competition. For thirty years, she toiled over this novel that addresses the plight of Koreans living in Japan that began with Japan’s 1910 annexation. Stripped of their heritage, taxed and abused into starvation, their language trivialized into a dialect, their natural resources exploited, Koreans groveled for existence. To survive, many immigrated to Japan for work. After World War II they watched the continued psychic and physical dissolution of their homeland under the Soviet Union and America.

Against this backdrop of atrocities, Min Jun Lee places Yangjin and her daughter Sunja, peasants living outside the port city of Busan, Korea (South Korea today). These intrepid women, undeterred by the meanest toil and filth, inspire their families for four generations, from 1911 to 1989 as they eke out their existence in Osaka and other cities in Japan. Decades of accommodation fail to deter their spirits.

The more I reflect upon the selflessness of Yangjin and Sunja, the sweeter they become. Their portrayal by Min Jin Lee challenges my narrow understanding of woman and my prejudice/uneasiness around third world people. There’s much to learn in this gripping story.

 

Available on Amazon

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