Bonnie Gray over at faithbarista posted Friday about the importance of “whitespace” in our lives, the times when we can break the frenzied patterns of day-to-day living and take a walk, sit calmly, or perhaps wander around aimlessly. These times are critical, she points out (based on scientific studies, not to mention common sense), for things like creativity. And relieving stress. And mental health.
For the last two months, I’ve been doing something I never thought I would find myself doing – writing poetry. It’s been a kind of therapy: lots of organizational changes at work, trying to help a lot of people deal with the changes, trying to deal with them myself. I think I turned to poetry as a new way to find some whitespace in my life. And I’ve met some neat people as a result – people I’ve never met in person but whom I consider to be friends – the people I’ve met via blogs, Twitter and Facebook.
A couple of weeks ago, one of those friends, L.L. Barkat at Seedlings in Stone, asked for help from several of us with a book giveaway project. The book was The Real Mary by Scot McKnight, and it moves beyond all of the Catholic vs. Protestant controversies to look at who Mary really was.
I was pleased to be asked to help, and came up with the idea of writing three poems about Mary to be published on this blog over the week of the giveaway – one on Friday, one on Monday and one on Thursday. In the flush of theological and marketing enthusiasm, I collectively called the Mary poems a “triptych.” In the middle of working on those poems, I was also developing a poem about “The Real _____,” a subject of our choice, for the Random Act of Poetry section of the High Calling Blogs, and a blog post on obedience, part of Peter Pollock’s “one-word challenge blog carnival” at Rediscovering the Church.
I wrote the four poems and the post on obedience in this order: (1) Mary poem #1, “May It Be to Me;” (2) Mary poem #2, “He Had to Be;” (3) “The Real Poet;” (4) Mary poem #3, “Your Son, Now;” and then (5) the blog post on Obedience. Looking at them collectively, I can see they are all pieces of a whole.
Something happened to me in this process, something I didn’t expect. It’s called pain. And something else I can't explain yet.
After writing the first two poems on Mary, I grew quiet and pensive. Something was bubbling around, and I didn’t quite understand what it was. I sweated out (figuratively) “The Real Poet;” when my wife read it later after it was posted, she came to me and said, “No one will know the pain that’s behind that poem,” proof (as if you need any) that your spouse always knows what’s behind the camouflage.
My response was a nod. By that time, I had written “Your Son, Now” and the obedience post, and the pain was no longer hidden. As I worked “Your Son, Now” over and over, I reached a point where I almost couldn’t write. The enormity of Mary’s sacrifice as a mother, and the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus, overwhelmed me. It wasn’t that I was unfamiliar with either. But something was happening in the writing of it that suddenly made it immediate, almost urgent, as if I was there. As if I was helping pound the nails. I broke down at one point, but still kept writing.
Afterward, via email, I asked my friend L.L. Barkat about what had happened, and she said that sometimes a poet can be pierced by his or her own words. I felt pierced, all right; I also felt shattered. The comments left about the poem told me that a few people, at least, had a glimpse of what had happened.
The post on obedience was written in the aftermath of all that and in a way is a kind of quiet distillation of the four poems into prose. Since then, I’ve written some prose posts for the blog and edited the Tweet-Party poem now posted at TweetSpeakPoetry.com. There’s also a poem I wrote before all of this that I haven’t yet posted.
But I haven’t written any more poems since the Mary Triptych. I’m not sure why. What started out as a way to help a friend became something else, taking on a meaning and result that I’m still wrestling with. I think there are more poems coming, but right now, I’m in that “whitespace” Bonnie Gray talked about in her blog post.
It’s a good place to be.