Eric Massanari is a chaplain at Kidron Bethel Village in North Newton, Kansas and a trained spiritual director. He is a member of the Mennonite Spiritual Directors Network steering committee and also serves on the Coordinating Council of Spiritual Directors International. Formerly, he was pastor of Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton, Kansas.
“Each venture is a new beginning,
a raid on the inarticulate.”
— T.S. Eliot
“Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth.”
— Psalm 19:2-4 (NRSV)
A good poem never presumes to have the final word. Good poetry, like Scripture (much of which is poetry), makes a hinge out of the written, spoken and apprehended word. A well-composed poem opens into, through and beyond itself, into realms that defy the circumscription of mere words. Poets accept such limitations, including the bittersweet pain of inarticulation, and feel the necessity of making the attempt anyway.
I try to write as much poetry as I can. Very little of it is “good” in the sense I’ve described. I have journal pages filled with seeding words and poems half-fulfilled, the majority of which will never be seen by eyes other than my own. My poetry varies wildly in terms of style, though most of it tends to reflect my preference for free verse, brevity and spaciousness on the page. Sometimes, many poems will emerge in a short span of time. Sometimes, weeks will pass without a line. Admittedly, I’m a rather undisciplined poet.
My parents once suggested that my love for poetry was instilled in me by my great aunt, Anna Kay Massanari, who would sometimes care for me during my first two years of life, while I lived in Puerto Rico. Auntie would rock me into my afternoon naps, reading fine poems by artists like T.S. Eliot and Emily Dickinson. I assume she did this for her own enjoyment, too.
Through the years I’ve come to think of writing poems as an act of faith more than a spiritual practice. I’ve found that when I claim something as a “spiritual practice” for myself, it rather quickly bears the undue weight of obligation and my incessant perfectionism. The start of each poem feels more like an act — even a leap! — of faith.
Poetry asks that I relinquish my desires for control, affirmation and the ideal product. By necessity, it calls me beyond myself, into a practice of wakeful presence with the world that, as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, “is charged with the grandeur of God.” Each poem invites me to risk a more unbounded and uninhibited relationship with this God who will forever defy my/our attempts at description and explication. Sometimes, I respond wholeheartedly to that invitation, and I find myself in the rather untidy, wild experience of an entirely new venture.
A Glimpse of the Garden
Sometimes, a glimpse of the garden
in gratuitous laughter
the fruitful answer
a moment of confirmation
through the blur of tears
the twist of a dilemma
a searing absence.
Learn more about the Mennonite Spiritual Directors Network at mennosdn.org.
You can find links to the Spiritual Directors Network website and other congregational and ministerial resources on MC USA’s Church Vitality webpage: https://www.mennoniteusa.org/
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.