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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…

This morning’s emptiness rankled—Nothing to blog about and time was passing.

So I looked up emptiness in J. Rodale’s The Synonym Finder and discovered entries related to things, time, scarcity, mood, and speech. Mine was lodged between hollowness and exhaustion: the indefinable perimeter of my imagination and its splayed energy. I was certain that behind this emptiness teemed vibrant images yet to be developed. I just needed to dig deeper in memory.

During much of my life, emptiness experiences triggered hidden landmines, their shocks plunging me deeper into introversion. Around me, the world was not to be trusted. Yet, tripwires still snagged my shoes. In the wake of such attacks, I soothed my distress with shopping. With the change of seasons, I donated armfuls of clothing to Good Will. Yet, emptiness still stung.

My 1991 joining of AA modified some of this disorder. The Fourth Step with its rigorous and moral inventory launched my first honest self-evaluation; its completion revealed a larger sense of who I really was. Seasonal deliveries to Good Will dwindled, then stopped. Rather than my attire speaking to the world around me, I learned to cultivate a personal voice. Yet, occasional emptiness still happens, as this morning.

Yet, my present sense of emptiness has paradoxical value in Jesus’s First Beatitude, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God: It breathes the spirit of Twelve-Step Recovery. The less of my ego, the more for Spirit to flourish.

So, within my impoverishment/emptiness brim the untold riches of Kingdom living. At the top of the steps each morning, light colors the world with fresh grace. Everything looks different, even my transition.

It was October 1966, then, a young professed in our Academy. Stressed by intermittent knee pain and overwhelmed by teaching and surveillante responsibilities, I fingered a slim paperback in the pocket of my petticoat and ached for more of Abraham Heschel’s Man’s Quest for God – Studies in Prayer and Symbolism (1954). I had been forewarned to keep this book underwraps; its Jewishness smarted against acceptable norms in the Catholic world in which I lived.

But Heschel’s words shimmered off the pages and left track marks upon my psyche—I would return at a later time.

These words still shimmer, but integrated at a deeper level than decades before. Central to Heschel’s theology is what he calls divine pathos: God’s continuing need for us as co-creators in his multiple expanding universes—an understanding Heschel gleaned from his studies of the Talmud and kabbalistic and Hasidic writings.

No matter that the prophets and Jesus of Nazareth decried the hardness of heart they encountered along dusty Palestinian roads, natives filled with self-absorption, haughtiness, and stingy spirits. Similar avoidance of collaboration with Creator God exists today.

Yet, God persists in His offer.

Stripped of its religious trappings, co-creation again appears in the Eleventh Step of Alcoholics Anonymous: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. The handful that brings love, harmony, and peace where before there was none do experience shimmering life.

Such is the viable antidote for our world, no matter who is in power.

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