A month ago I went away for a week to do nothing but write poetry.

I went prepared, taking with me my poetry “sketchbooks” (ideas for new poems), and potential poetry drafts that I hadn’t nurtured in years, and a few pretty good poems that just needed their “final” polish (note: for a poet, no poem is ever “finished,” even after it is published!).

Given the luxury of a whole week with no distractions (I didn’t even have to prepare my meals!), I anticipated entering, and writing from, those interior spaces where the emotions live, the deep places that often resist being explored.

But as my writing time unfolded, I was fascinated to see that the drafts I wrote from my interior were mostly theological. What I wrote were questions, dispatched from my internal darkness into the limitless ether. Three, then five, then ten drafts of potential poetry about divinity, and those eternal Big Questions: what does it mean to be human? Is there a God? Can there be an I/Thou relationship between a human and the Creator? Which metaphors best convey the unknowing?

As I wrote I realized I was not seeking answers so much as wanting to ask the questions clearly. I hoped to wear the questions more comfortably in my daily life. This has been a lifelong pattern for me, this wanting to explore the inner questions. As early as age eight or nine I was deeply curious about the target of people’s praying – but I didn’t dare ask about it because in my Unitarian family we had judgments about prayer, and we didn’t “do” it. (We didn’t talk about sex either, but that’s for a future essay, not this one.)

When I was a teenager I consulted pastors and preachers and teachers of various stripes to find out what their personal experiences of Life and Death and God were. Almost to a person, they offered me a book or three to read, and sent me, dissatisfied, on my way.

Then, for three decades I was a practicing Roman Catholic. I found consolation and a feeling of divine connection in the rituals and mysticism of the Church. But eventually those Big Questions started rising up again, and the Church no longer satisfied.

In my late forties I returned to college to complete a bachelor of arts degree. I remember taking an ethics course in which we were assigned a research paper on any one of the major ethics issues (abortion, euthanasia, bioengineering, etc.). We were to research what professional ethicists had to say about the issue we chose, and summarize their work in our paper. But I wanted to unearth, and report on, what I thought about the issue. I was nearly fifty, and I had a lot more life experience than most of my classmates; I wanted to wrestle with my own reasoning, not regurgitate the rationales of others. It took some cajoling, but eventually the professor acquiesced, and I got to write the paper my way. When he saw the results of my ethical struggles, he agreed that all my upcoming papers might be written the same way. He hadn’t been used to students actually thinking!

And now, twenty-some years and a masters degree in theology later, I’m still eager to discover my own truths. I still want to clarify my own questions. I like diving deep and braving those dark, interior spaces. I love the hints hidden in dreams. I need metaphors to provide insights where plain words don’t suffice. All of that takes creative time, plus some amount of courage and tenacity. And that explains why I came home from my writing week with over a dozen raw question-filled poetry sketches instead of a collection of finished work.

Guess I’ll just have to go away for another writing week. I want to explore those new drafts, and see how I might enfold unanswerable questions into meaningful metaphors, so some of my questions can be brought out of the darkness. My inner nine-year-old still wants to hold them up to the light.<

11 replies
  1. Alison Heins
    Alison Heins says:

    Cynthia, you are so “right on”. These sorts of questions have really come to me since my beloved dog Bettie died. She was such a Buddha dog, a Being, and I feel as if we keep on communicating. As I grieved, she indicated (so I perceived) that on Earth we are singular, and on the other side, where she is, all things are…sort of…not singular any more. Curiously, soon after I perceived this, I caught a snippet on the radio about a new discovery in quantum physics. Not that I would understand any of that, but it seemed to be indicating the same thing. It’s a vast, endless, open universe out there. Who knows how our souls or spirits will reconnect in the next realm? All I hope is that Bettie will be there, ready to greet me, wagging her tail. (And I have a song dedicated to her in that regard).
    P.S. a T’ai chi buddy of mine died on the Feast of Saint Pelagius this year.

    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Bettie was, and is, certainly your spirit guide (or one of them). Perhaps your friend who died on St. Pelagius’ Day (an auspicious time, indeed) and Bettie are now teaming up on your behalf!

  2. Marian
    Marian says:

    Asking questions clearly: a fantastic thought. One that colors the question with motive and goal.
    I’ve fought with asking clear questions always. Still do. But I’ve learned that the pre-question thinking often determines what my questions are.
    World view determines whether questions are setting up a debate, offering subtle complaints, or setting up sign posts for places to build paths where no questions can be asked because nothing is yet established.
    Then silence becomes the infinite question.

    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      So let’s take a walk together on the silent sign-posted paths . . . listening for “the infinite question” where “nothing is yet established.” We can take along some PB&J sandwiches, in case the journey takes a while. ;>}

  3. Christina
    Christina says:

    Great way to spend a week… slowed down to the pace of questioning… but does it rhyme? Sincerely, a bow to you and the ways you expend your time and energy and heartfelt thinking capacities. Carry on–and keep writing… I so appreciate this blog and you. CB

    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Well dang . . . just when I am wondering if my posts are getting boring after six years, and whether I should take a hiatus for a few months, along comes my friend/mentor who says “keep writing” – have you been eavesdropping on my thoughts?? Thank you for your encouragement. And no, “questioning” doesn’t rhyme with much of anything (it’s in the slush pile with “orange” and “silver”) – but then my poetry seldom rhymes either, so that’s okay.

  4. Ted
    Ted says:

    So refreshing, to have the questions carrying you for a week! As always, Cynthia, you share the persistent offerings of the universe (Universe?) in such a deeply accepting way. Thank you for asking!

    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      What you don’t see in my blog posts is all the time I spend whingeing at the u(U?)niverse when I don’t feel so accepting!!
      And yes, I’ll plunge right back down there into the quagmire whenever I get the chance . . . care to join me there for tea?

      • Bill Gilbert
        Bill Gilbert says:

        For me Universe might come down to three “things”. And of course these aren’t things at all but a belief in the mystical power of life. From this occasional theorist, the trillium is two bits from Einsteins book: matter, energy and from my perspective – the path. A path takes time. Oh, and maybe there is some dark matter in mix, which one can make into any metaphor you like. Along the path, matter and energy transform into our reality. As infinitely mysterious as it may be, there may come a time when we can peer behind all that mystery and find some satisfaction.


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