All blog posts must be in this category.

Once upon a time there was a little girl who was afraid of almost everything: bugs that flew, caterpillars that crawled, lightning that flashed, winds that blew, dogs that barked, rumors of robbers, sirens that screamed in the night, vegetables that looked unfamiliar, people that spoke with difficult accents.

In tears she often ran to a wise man, asking him to protect her, sobbing out her question: how could she feel safe when everything seemed so frightening? This wise man was her father; he would hold her until her tears dried, he’d say some soothing words, then send her back out to play. He could not protect her from every scary thing, but he could console her until she was old enough to hear the answer she sought to her question: How could she feel safe?

When the little girl was ten or so, the wise man decided it was time for her to be told the secret to not being afraid. “This,” he said, “is my family’s secret. Your grandfather knew it, your grandmother knows it. Your aunt knows it. I know it. It is a secret that is shared with those who are wise enough to use it. So now I pass this secret on to you: Every day, you must do one thing that scares you. It doesn’t have to be a great big thing. It can be just little tiny scary thing. At the end of the day you may tell me what scary thing you have done, or you can keep it as a secret for yourself. But do it – one scary thing each day.”

For ten years the girl practiced the wisdom of her father: almost every day she did something scary. Because she was facing them, paying attention to the scary things, somehow they didn’t seem quite so fearsome any more. Sometimes she wasn’t sure they even counted as her daily “one scary thing.” So she moved on to bigger scary things – she accepted leadership responsibilities; she auditioned for (and won) the position of drum major in her high school marching band; she sang on the stage; she traveled across the country by herself; she ended a toxic friendship; she moved away from home to live on a college campus.

Now this twenty-year-old young woman finds herself in a world that has become very much scarier than anyone can remember: a global pandemic growing to monstrous proportions; people killing each other over whether or not they will wear protective masks; racial tensions breaking loose in city streets, with political civility and maybe even democracy seeming to be things of the past. She lives in the midst of climate change, with hourly extinctions of flora and fauna. She has what seems to me (her grandmother) to be a bleak future.

But Jessica has perfected the rhythm of one-scary-thing-a-day. And so, in spite of what the future may hold, she moves forward with plans for how her life will serve others. She will be an elementary school teacher. She’ll finish her education degree in another year. She has plans for graduate study. She has learned to discern what’s worth the energy spent on fear (not much, in her experience) and what isn’t. She knows how she will help her young students face scary times.

Once upon a recent time – last week, in fact – this same young woman, who once was afraid of almost everything, did yet another scary thing: she walked into a tattoo shop to have her own wisdom inked permanently into her skin, just above her right inner elbow.

 

In Jessica’s wisdom, and the determination of so many others in her generation, I find courage for myself, and a glimmer of hope for our future.

 

 

Did you ever wonder about where our one-hundred billion dollar prison industry had its beginnings, and why it so disproportionally confines people of color?

For starters, look no further than the Thirteenth Amendment to The Constitution of the United States.

Go ahead. Look it up on Google. Read the whole Amendment. I’ll wait here while you read.

 

Back so soon? Yup, it’s only 2 sentences long.

The Thirteenth Amendment abolishes slavery and involuntary servitude. That is very good thing. But there is an important catch built into it: the 14-word second phrase.

A few days ago I watched a stunning documentary, made in 2016, that I’d never heard of before last week: Thirteenth, written and directed by Ava DuVernay. It focuses on the implications of that 14-word phrase. It can be viewed on Netflix.

This is the sum and substance of my blog post this month: WATCH THIS DOCUMENTARY.

Then I’d love to know what your observations are. One thing we can thank the coronavirus for is giving us the opportunity to ponder really big, unexpected issues. Thanks for considering this one.

The coronavirus pandemic has sent journalists, medical personnel, and politicians scrambling to their thesauruses (thesauri?) for synonyms often found in monastic lexicons. We’ve been advised to remain “sequestered,” “isolated,” “withdrawn,” “secluded,” “disengaged,” and even “cloistered.”

It’s the phrase “locked down” that reminds me of the monastics of the Middle Ages who were called anchorites. An anchorite was an extreme monastic who took vows to remain permanently in place in tiny quarters, often just a dozen feet square, usually built onto a church. Typically there were three windows in the space: one small shuttered window was cut into the wall shared with the church sanctuary. This was used for viewing the altar, hearing Mass and receiving the Eucharist. Through this window also, an anchorite might provide spiritual counsel to visitors. A second window allowed assistants to attend to the anchorite’s physical needs. And the third window, facing the outside but covered with translucent fabric, allowed daylight into the cell.

Some anchorites were actually sealed into their designated cell with a ritual similar to funeral rites, to signify their “death” to the outside world and their focus trained only on their devotion to God and the development of their soul.

Dame Julian of Norwich was a 14th century English anchorite. At the time, the citizens of Norwich were afflicted by poverty, famine, and the devastating Bubonic Plague. She was a spiritual counselor to people in great suffering. Yet, her writings are suffused with hope and trust in ultimate goodness.

In her book, Revelations of Divine Love, Julian records a series of revelations (“the showings”) she received during a critical illness in May 1373. This book is the earliest extant book written by a woman in the English language. Despite her self-isolation seven centuries ago, she is honored today as a mystic, an unconventional theologian, and a compassionate prophet for our times.

Hildegard of Bingen was an 11th century German monastic. She became an anchorite at the age of eight. She penned hundreds of letters in her lifetime. She wrote volumes on mystical theology, natural history, music theory, medicine and healing, and literature. At the age of 36 she was released from her anchorhold to become leader of the religious sisters of her Benedictine monastery. She went on found several other monasteries as well. She frequently crossed political swords with the hierarchy of the Church (and usually got her way).

In our present age our stay home/stay safe mandates are not as stringent as being walled up in a tiny cell, though for some of us they may have seemed so. Yet, along with those of us who have recovered from or are still safe from the virus, I will long remember what has been emerging from our confinement – art, music, creative cuisine, supportive essays, poetry, face mask patterns, do-it-yourself hand sanitizer recipes. We’ve mastered (or bumbled through) Zoom sessions, connected with friends, family, congregations, even choirs and orchestras; we’ve altered our teaching styles, our learning disciplines; we’ve taken workshops and boned up on that hobby we always wanted to perfect – or to start.

When our lock-down is ended, and the danger of Covid-19 infection has abated, I will not have accomplished anywhere near what Hildegard and Julian did. But these are four ways I will have used my personal “anchorite time”:

1) I’ve tried to practice daily the spiritual exercise of tonglen, especially since I can’t seem to resist reading the dreadful digital headlines as infection counts and body counts rise, and many of our elected leaders seem immobilized. A few years ago I wrote, “The variation of tonglen that I use is basically simple breathing. It begins with being aware of what is before me, particularly whatever is dark, uncomfortable, painful, helpless, marginalized . . . I focus, then, on my willingness to be made useful and my prayer to be kept safe as I “breathe in” these sinister things. For the brief time between the in-breath and the out-breath, I imagine that whatever is negative and dark and hidden will be transformed within me, and then I exhale whatever is positive and light, for the benefit of all beings . . . Sometimes I don’t even set an intention with each breath; I simply ask at the beginning of the day, or at the start of a difficult part of a day, that my breathing be used in this transformative way. Then I just breathe through the day, trusting that my having asked, and being willing to participate, will be enough. And I offer a single heartfelt sigh of gratitude at the end of the day for all that has been transformed by the simple act of tonglen breathing. ” (Meeting in the Margins: An Invitation to Encounter Society’s Invisible People, pp. 142, 143)

2) I have made a point of saying “I love you” to others, as often as it is true.

3) As if I were in an anchorhold, I have paid attention to the smallest of pleasures, like the joy of a Christmas cactus, my companion beside the chair where I write; it is blooming for the first time in four years. Maybe it just needed more noticing.

4) In seclusion it’s a little easier to focus on that most difficult of questions: What do you MOST want of this lifetime?  And I keep coming back to this answer: I want to listen, and to notice; I want to try to capture the heart of people’s stories, and the noticing of lovely things, in words worthy of their beauty. In poems and essays I want capture profound human stories. I want to look at the world around me and proclaim, “Hey, my friend, look at THAT!”

Since that is what I most want in this life, I’m happy to announce that I have four poems being published in literary journals in June:

Conclave Literary Journal (Balkan Press) is publishing

“Argot of a Feral Life” (a prose poem) and

“Filling in the Gaps”

Inscape Magazine (Washburn University) is publishing

“Widow’s Walk” (a villanelle)

and Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing (online) is reprinting

“Loving Mother Anyway” (published in this blog last month).

Plus, there is a brief piece of mine printed in the “Readers Write” section of the June edition of The Sun Magazine.

In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, from seclusion in my little “anchorhold” on Whidbey Island to yours, wherever you may be, I send you blessings for health, patience, a strong circle of supportive friends, and lots of creativity.


“Hmm…” was the clue for 6-Across in a recent L.A. Times Sunday crossword puzzle. 6-Across had seven squares, so I filled in “IWONDER.” Which sent me down a rabbit hole of several things I’ve been wondering about lately, in this time of pandemic and quarantine.

I wonder if the companies that make the brass fittings for coffins are now considered “essential businesses.”

Will face masks become the next fashion accessory? And how will deaf people “hear” if they can’t lip-read?

Have I ever before felt such waves of gratitude for the checkout clerks, the local organic farmers, the team that collects my trash at 6:30 every Wednesday morning? Do I promise now never to forget how much I love them?

Are the underwater creatures in the Pacific Ocean aware of the human chaos on the land? Would they like to help us if they could?

I wonder if Zoom will replace all committee meetings, blind dates, and family reunions from now on?

Are the hummingbirds that peer in the kitchen window impressed by how carefully we’re sanitizing our surfaces and our foods?

How many of the dozens of breathtaking daily headlines will end up being just statistical footnotes by next year?

I wonder about journalists’ duty as historians – and I’m thinking about true journalism vs social media. Journalists have a duty to discover and collect the details, to fact check and record the news accurately and clearly. But I wonder: does that professional duty extend to actually publishing and airing all those details, especially every incendiary, ill-advised political rant or armed-mob chant?

I think often about medical triage, about the painful ethical decisions coming in such overwhelming numbers for healthcare workers that each choice can’t possibly be given the thoughtful consideration it needs. Will these decisions haunt medical staff for the rest of their lives? How long a life are our front-line caregivers likely to have, given their repeated exposure to the menace of coronavirus?

And how is it possible that spring is happening despite the headlines? How can it be joyfully bursting forth from the soil of the tulip fields in the Skagit Valley, from the tips of maple branches, from the nests of finches, from window boxes and roadside ditches – how can that possibly be?

So these days I occupy my brain with these little wonderings, because my mind just can’t comprehend the huge reality of this new worldwide plague, and of a madman presiding over 55,000 Americans dead of Covid-19 in the past three months.

By the way, the correct answer to the “Hmm…” crossword puzzle clue was “LETSSEE.” Let’s see, indeed, what the rest of 2020 holds for us.

I wonder . . .

May you be well through all of this trying year.

 

 

“Statues” was a game we kids played during recess on the playground. One kid (usually a girl, a bossy “Lucy” type) got to control the action; the rest of us would dance and whirl and act crazy until she shouted “Freeze!” and we’d all stop in mid-action. Whoever wobbled first from their “statue” pose was out of the game. Of course some of the poses were so ridiculous that most of us would start giggling and jiggling and eventually we’d all just fall on the ground laughing.

Several decades later, in the midst of our whirling ordinary lives and crazy business-as-usual, a pandemic has shouted “freeze!” and we have                          

stopped.

We have sheltered-in-place; hidden in fear; closed our businesses, schools, places of worship.
We’ve lost our footing, lost our income, been bewildered, been disinformed.
We’ve cooked from our freezers and pantries, checked on neighbors, sent “I love you” emails.
We’ve gotten sick. We’ve died.

There have been lots of words about this in the ether of the internet – wise words, beautiful words, panicked words, informed words. Too many words.

I don’t want to add many more words to the ever-growing pile. What I do want to do is something I seldom do in this blog: offer you two of my newest poems. One was written “before,” in the first week of January (“Loving Mother Anyway”), and the other was written last week (“Obeisance to Mt. Baker”). They pretty much contain everything I have to say about the pandemic . . . so far.

May you be well.

 

Loving Mother Anyway

Joyfully immersed in her creative project,
she coddled, nourished, patiently evolved us
from single-cell simplicity
to complicated sentience.

Now we believe
we are the apex of her creativity,
the very reason she exists.
We crow our brilliance to her heavens
as we scar her skies with contrails
and chlorofluorocarbon.
We lacerate her skin
then salve her wounds
with trash and poisons.
We suck her riches dry
and kill each other
when we feel deprived.

Tired, she whispers now.
I grow so tired of them.
I feel no joy in keeping them.
Soon, she says,
very soon I’ll shake these parasites
from my exhausted body.
I’ll loose them from my gravity
with whirling, angry storms.
They will fall up
through holes ripped in my shawl.
They’ll vaporize in empty darkness,
and I will not take them back.

Anxiously I watch
her growing discontent.
I wonder: could I love her well enough
to make her change her plans?
Our science says too late for that.
But do I cherish the bounty
and the beauty of her life enough
to love her anyway,
as she destroys humanity
so she can heal herself?
                                  ©2020 CynthiaTrenshaw.com

 

Obeisance to Mt. Baker

Green-fringed fir shawls
flail in gusts nor’westerly.
A dozen gulls and two great eagles
sail between gray waves, pale sky.
Digital 1s and 0s swarming
everywhere, invisible,
mutate into small-screen warnings:
disorder!
death!
pandemic!

I’m bewildered in this swirl.
My jaw is clenched,
my fingers too.
I can’t find meaning,
cannot focus.

But tall above the Cascade Range,
stolid when all else is trembling,
brilliant white Mt. Baker stands,
commands attention.
The peak will not,
cannot be ignored.

I meet the mountain’s ancient stare,
hear its silent hallowing demands.
My breathing slows.
Wind and code falter in the ether.
Turmoil is becalmed.

Reverently I press my palms together,
peak my fingers, mirroring
the mountain.
Accept its deep initiation.
Embed its calm into my heart
where chaos cannot reach.
                                  ©2020 CynthiaTrenshaw.com

photo by Corrine Bayley

 “I used to think bearing witness was a passive act, but I don’t believe that anymore. When we are present, when we do not divert our gaze, something is revealed. The very marrow of life. We change. A transformation occurs. A consciousness shift.”  Terry Tempest Williams, quoted on ServiceSpace.org

 

A stoic does not express emotion. A stoic family is mostly expressionless.

I was reared in a stoic household: Germanic (on Mom’s side – she referred back only as far as “Pennsylvania Dutch,” because she liked their folk art) and Welsh (on Dad’s side – traced back to the 15th century and Sir Rhys ap Thomas, Knight of the Garter and Governor of Wales who hosted jousting tournaments at his Carew Castle. I was pleased to discover, as an adult visiting Wales, that Sir Rhys’s armor was not all as shiny as I’d been led to believe!)

When I was a child, not only was I not versed in the language of emotions, but also it was clear that I should not feel emotions at all. Nor, my parents hoped, would I ever express them, because Mom and Dad would not know what to do with loose emotions flitting around in our home like bats that had snuck in through tiny chinks in our walls.

It took decades for me to feel safe with emotions, and years more to identify and name them.

This past winter I experienced for the first time a prolonged depression, and I gained a huge compassion for people who often feel depressed. The emotion matched the weather, as if layers of gray, leaden clouds pressed down on the daylight, on the land, on my body, on my energy, on my eyelids. Some days the only thing I wanted to do was to hide under a quilt and sleep. What helped me the most was just being-with: allowing myself to feel what I was feeling, and not fighting it. I allowed myself to have compassion for me, and to accept the compassion of friends who checked in on me and who made sure that occasionally I got out from under my quilt even if I didn’t think I wanted to. Like the gray clouds, thankfully the depression has finally moved on by.

Though it is not depression, in the past months I have felt a lot of sadness, and have come to understand that most of it is not “mine.” Several friends recently have lost spouses and friends and beloved pets. Though I do not feel sad in myself for these losses, my friends’ sadnesses have come to visit me. I can name the feeling as “sad” and “grief,” and I have invited those others’ feelings to come in and stay a while with me. I believe that my holding them temporarily may lessen their impact on my friends. And I’m pleased to notice that I can tell the difference between emotions that are “mine” and ones that are “theirs.”

But in the last few weeks I’ve felt . . . something . . . that is probably an emotion, but I have no name for it. It’s been appearing several times a day recently. I’m definitely feeling it, because I’m no longer the stoic I was raised to be; emotions of all sorts are allowed in my life.

And, being a poet, I’m searching for a name for what I’m feeling, or at least a metaphor or a simile that will help me understand it.

        This feeling is both poignant and sweet.

        It is like the aroma of an evening’s dinner, still alluring at the far corner of the house long after the meal is finished and I am full.

        It is a sensuous, musical feeling, like when a dissonant chord is held so long it becomes foreplay, and its resolution portends orgasm.

        It is like the afterglow from a vanished dream.

        It is like Midwestern air just before a thunderstorm trips and falls into a million wet pieces.

        This feeling is like a crocus risking February with both fear and elation.

        And trying to describe this feeling is like hearing an unfamiliar bird that calls from a hidden place, and then trying to describe the call to an Audubon member.

This feeling that I can’t yet name seems to be located not so much in my gut, where the heavier emotions live, but nearer my heart because there is lightness and joy in it as well as mystery. All I know to do is simply feel it, to be-with it just as I was with depression. While I seek its name I will smile or weep, stomp or twirl, maybe share a cup of tea with the feeling, and perhaps a square of dark chocolate with almonds.

Whatever this emotion is, I’m quite certain it contains something wonderful for me. Maybe it holds a wise insight. It might reveal ecstasy, if I stay with it long enough. What a very un-stoic thought!

At the very least, even if I never can name it, maybe this mystery emotion contains the seeds of a brand new poem.

 

Last week I had one of the most memorable meals of my life.

Out of curiosity I’ve searched back through my memory files, and found just a few other such memorable repasts:

– A wiener roast on the top of a high snow-covered dune (we called it “Mt. Everest”) on the southern shore of Lake Michigan in the middle of winter. My family and another family were all bundled in snowsuits and boots, hats and scarves and gloves. I was four years old. The grownups built a bonfire for roasting hot dogs until they were charred in the kid-approved summer-picnic fashion (minus the crunchy sand). After wieners we had charred marshmallows and hot cocoa. It was childhood feast, memorable for over 70 years.

– Sometime in the late 1980s, my husband Joe and I had a memorable meal with our friends Wes and Judy. They were wealthy, we were not; and the four of us loved dining and playing and traveling together. To solve the income disparity, we agreed to alternate our social planning – Joe and I would plan one evening or road trip (inexpensive), Wes and Judy would plan the next (without regard to cost). The memorable meal happened at the restaurant atop the Westin Hotel in Chicago. (Wes wanted to go there because the restaurant featured a roving musician who played a Stradivarius violin.) It was a luxury restaurant, one of those that had “ladies’ menus” with no prices listed, so female diners need not fret about the tab which their male companions would, of course, pay. I tried to sneak a peak at Joe’s menu, but couldn’t manage it. So I made up my mind thusly: Okay, Cynthia, you are here in this fabulous restaurant. No matter what you order, the price will be way beyond what you think you can afford. SO – order what you really want to eat. Enjoy EVERY morsel of it. Be grateful. Do NOT give up a single moment to fretting; figure out later where you’ll find the money to pay off the credit card. And I did just that. I ordered in-season soft-shell crab, a lovely white wine, and even a crème brûlée for dessert. It was a glorious meal.

– Here I’ll give a nod to another meal, the reason I knew about soft-shell crab in the first place. A few years earlier Joe and I had driven deep into the bayous south of New Orleans. We found a little dump of a tavern where cars pulled up to one side of the building and small fishing boats pulled up to the other side. The soft-shell crabs we ate that afternoon had made the briefest of stops in a frying pan on the way from a boat to our plates!

– Another jaunt to New Orleans, another of my most memorable meals: one of the components of the prix fixe lunch at the Quarter’s tiny iconic Tujague’s Restaurant that day was a red rémoulade sauce. I remember nothing more of the meal – just that sublime sauce that my tastebud-memory can still recall perfectly.

– One more memory before I return to last week’s meal. This memorable meal was a picnic in Tennessee, with Joe and our friend Jim. We’d brought sandwiches we purchased at a deli, and a bottle of wine that Joe was excited about trying (he was a wine aficionado). We drove beside the Little Pigeon River, outside Gatlinburg in the Great Smoky Mountains, until we found a pull-off area that looked promising – where the river was shallow and raced around a few table-sized granite boulders. After leaving our shoes in the grass at the edge of the river we distributed our sandwiches and wine glasses among the three of us, and each claimed a relatively flat-topped boulder. On his boulder Jim opened the wine, stood up and poured a dram into the river as a blessing of gratitude; we passed the bottle from boulder to boulder, and it was, indeed, worth being excited about. I think the sandwiches were good, but the wine and the friendship, the granite and the cold rushing water are what I hold in my memory.

And now I’ll tell of my most recent memorable meal. The setting was an isolated cafe on Whidbey Island, the only commercial establishment for miles around, near the ferry dock on the west side of the island. Privately I was feeling sorry for myself about yet another sign of my aging: just an hour earlier I’d gotten (and paid for – gasp!) hearing aids. It had been raining all day, and I didn’t feel like socializing. But I’d made this date with my friend Katherine, and I was cautiously glad to be emerging from a couple of months of social/emotional hibernation. So there I was, in a motley mix of feelings, staring at the menu at Callen’s Restaurant. I ordered a steak, knowing that it might be tough (serves me right for wanting red meat). What the waitress delivered was a five-ounce sirloin steak, almost as thick as it was wide; beside it were two stalks of steamed broccolini, a finger-sized whole carrot, and a mound of garlic mashed potatoes – chunky, as I prefer them. I cut into the steak – it was tender, perfectly medium-rare and so delicious I nearly swooned. Soon I realized I was eating with pure joy! 

I ate every morsel of food on my plate, then had a discussion with the waitress about available desserts and ordered a “warm chocolate truffle cake” (it might not actually taste good, which would serve me right for eating all that sugar). What the waitress delivered was a little hill of dark chocolate cake, embracing a core of hot fudge filling; there was a scoop of vanilla on the flank of the hill, and a shawl of raspberry sauce around its shoulders, with just a touch of whipped cream trim. It was bliss, and I devoured it with sensuous JOY. I did offer Katherine a bite, but she declined. I have no idea what she and I had been talking about (sorry, Katherine), but she tells me that I ate that entire dessert, every last tasty gram and granule, in less than seven minutes. With exuberance and moans!

A meal may be memorable for its tastes, its textures, its unexpected ingredients. A meal may be memorable for its location, its companions, its emotion du jour. The mental file in which I keep my memorable meals now has a new entry, memorable for its secret joy. Perhaps you’ve enjoyed it too as I’ve recounted it. Bon appétite!

 

 

This month, when acquaintances and clerks and baristas asked, “Are you doing anything special for the holidays?” I replied, “I’m doing nothing.” If they assumed that that was a sad, or lonesome, or irreligious state, I might add, “I love being in the dark time of year, and I don’t want to lose a moment of it to the hustle and glitter and parties, and hours in the kitchen. So I’m doing nothing, just being fully in the dark and quiet.” And they’d nod as if they understood, but I’m not sure they did.

 

For me, and for many of my friends, this year has seemed particularly dark – meteorologically, physically, politically, ecologically. And it seems to me that if that’s the hand we’ve been dealt in 2019, we’d be wise to study our cards carefully to see what patterns of meaning they hold. We’d be wise to discern how best to play those cards, for the greatest good of all. That discernment requires a time of damping down sensory input for a while. The dark time of year is a natural time to do that.

Or here’s a different metaphor, one that feels just right on the drizzly day I’m writing this: A few times in my life I’ve swum in the softness of a freshwater lake in the darkness of a midwestern summer night. It felt as if the gentle enfolding water recognized itself in me. I lost all sense of limitations; there were no boundaries between the water and my body.

That’s what being fully in the dark time feels like in these final days of this year: letting go, opening up, expanding, merging with something benevolent that is more than myself. I do not want to be distracted from that commingling. And so, for the holidays, I am doing “nothing.”

Gradually, as the tilt of the earth’s axis brings a few minutes more of light to each day, I’ll clamber out of the dark time. I’ll enter spring, the beginning-again time, happily christened with a new appreciation of connectedness and possibility.

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.<