Sunday, October 11, 2009

Words That Pierce and Shatter

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 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.


Laura said...

Poetry, like music I think, has a way of reaching deeper into our hearts. I remember once asking L.L., "Does the poem sometimes lead?" Because I started writing and ended up in a completely different place than I thought I was headed. Poetry has been a bit of heart-analysis meets world for me, if that makes any sense at all.

Yes. Real men write poetry. And it is good. :)

Anonymous said...

since my writing has been called poetry by others, i have called it poetry as well...but, i know that it is not in a certain class of what some assume to be that.

i looked at some poetry sites last night, and i was stunned at how i was not like those poems at all, not like those writers in the way that i just want to express a song, a dance, feelings hidden, remembered, burried deep, tender aches of longing, hardness, pleasure. and i want to share these parts of myself with others because i need others to share with. others that understand that what i write is about walking together, in pain and in fun and in joy. with people that understand and show appreciation for eachother.

i am not a poet, as many see poets. i am not someone who knows all the ways to play the game, i do not want to know those rules.

thank you for opening up yourself in this way so that some may come to know you better.

you are a caring, lovely, open, honest, creative, inspiring, fun, gifted, tender, loving person.

and i am glad that you are here.

this is a good to know you, even in whitespace.

Anonymous said...

this is a good to know you...i know that is not good writing, indeed, i is good to know you, even when you are in whitespace.

i think i would call it rainbow space. or a field of flowers space.

or maybe dream space.

white is just too....white.

i happen to like going to a local consignment clothing store in mcminnville oregon called "new to you". one can just go in there and stand at a long rack and just move hangers from right to left...or vice versa...and for some reason, this is very soothing to me. this must be one of my spaces of white, dream, flowers, prayer. weird, huh?

Anonymous said...

you know...i am not good at spelling either.

Maureen said...

I've come to think of "whitespace" as a place for "being": being true to what you feel, being open to the gift bestowed, such as a voice that gives expression to what otherwise might go unsaid, and thus unknown; being freed to let unveil instead of remaining covered; becoming healed.

I went through a long period where I didn't use my "whitespace"; then, when my brother called and told me he had cancer, the "whitespace" became the one place I could inhabit without making excuse. Throughout my brother's illness, I wrote, and soon I had more than 50 poems (some pages long), including one that I didn't know at the time would be his elegy at his funeral in May. I'm still writing, though the "whitespace" now is taking on other subjects, other ideas.

It's ok to occupy the "whitespace" when you can, to leave it for a while, to go back when the time is right. Kind of like making a journey to your heart while the mind's still trying to sort everything out.

I hope you'll always be in the "whitespace" when you have something to say. We'll be here, waiting to read, listen, remark, share the "whitespace" with you.

Anonymous said...

I would call this catharsis spiritual growth. (Or spiritual therapy?) It's funny how writing can take you there, to places that you would never find through regular conversations and the routines of life.

Glad to see the signs of life in you. It's such a good thing.

Glynn said...

Thank you all, friends, for the comments.

Laura, I think you're right -- sometimes the poem leads. "Your Son, Now" totally took over and brought me to a place I didn't expect at all.

Nancy, whatever we call it -- whitespace, dream space, rainbow place -- it's like a place where God is holding me close -- and while it is a resting place, it also scares me to death.

Maureen and Brad -- I think this "whitespace" is exactly that -- a time of spiritual growth. I've been reading Ian Cron's novel "Chasing Francis," and he's doing something in this novel like I found myself doing in poetry.

Anonymous said...

it is interesting to hear how espressing things with words on paper has been used in bringing about growth and brought you to a place that you did not expect to go to.
i am glad that God is holding you close. may God fill you with His peace to go forward in faith and trust.

i did not understand what you meant by white space. but, i think i can relate to your place of being held close.

FaithBarista Bonnie said...


This post, in itself, is a poem of your heart.

I thought of "Your Son, Now", as I wrote a line in the micro-poem I included in my post today.

In between the lines of your lyrical composition, I heard God whisper in your pain.

Thank you for sharing. Whitespaces lead us to different places, and I am blessed by yours.