John Blase is a rarity on the Internet: a thoughtful, Christian poet. I was introduced to him via his Advent meditation book, Touching Wonder, which retells the Christmas story vividly through the eyes of the various personae. (In a non-cheesy way). It should definitely be on your Advent wishlist. It is an honour to have him talking poetry here:
Two things first.
First. A small, silver star hangs in our kitchen window throughout the year. It was originally intended to be a Christmas ornament but we’ve re-intended it to be our daily reminder of what being a believer is all about. The star is etched with a single word – hope. Now by all means a believer can add to that, but hope is the core.
Second. I posted this status update on Facebook not long ago. It rang true with a good number of people: I’m interested in writing that speaks of life lived on this dark and marvelous planet, writing that honors dying and sex and cottonwood trees and lower-middle-class Cabernet and your daughter’s faded red robe that hangs behind the door and the fact that your grandfather poured cream in his cereal instead of milk. I’m interested in writing that smells and tastes and feels, writing that makes the marrow burn. I’m not interested in any other kind of writing.
Those two thoughts are the feet my current creative work stands on: hope, and flesh and blood.
Now here’s a fly-on-the-wall look at my creative process. I get up early, start the coffee, and make this request: Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. It sounds just a tad serious but I believe God really has something for me to see or hear or feel or taste or remember, and I don’t want to miss it. Some mornings I stand awhile and watch the sun come up, listen to birds and the train. Some mornings I listen to music and daydream. Other mornings I read a little, maybe some scripture but not necessarily so; in fact, many days its poetry or fiction. But every morning, regardless of the specifics, I’m trying to pay attention, which is what I believe prayer to be.
For example, today I read a few Jim Harrison poems and in one he used the line:
deep-yellow dove – a phrase that arrested me. I underlined it and chewed on it awhile and eventually this emerged:
THE COMING AND GOING
A deep-yellow dove more
brilliant than gold came to
me to die. I said see I’m not
a doctor and she said I know
but you look at the world and
into your heart at the same time.
So I spent her last day listening
to her sing of this world, what
she called the Suchness. I held
her in my fragile hands and felt
the shape of death. I held her to
the very end and then a little more.
But there was more going on than just the poem because after I had written those lines I remembered my grandmother who is slow-dying in a nursing home in north Texas. Then I thought about a good friend who is watching his mother live out her final days. I stopped and prayed for them both and for the family that surrounds them in the valley of the shadow. That kind of thing doesn’t happen every morning, but it does happen some mornings. Is there some deep theological message in that poem? I don’t know, probably not. I sure didn’t write it with that goal in mind; I never do. But I did feel the lines achieved a kind of beauty – the words, imagery, even the very end – and for me that is enough.
In talking with one of my very best friends recently, he said something to the effect of When I read your words I feel like everything’s going to be okay. It may not be right this moment, but its going to be. I was encouraged by his words because as I said earlier, hope is a touchstone for me as a believer, a reality I trust always comes through in my writing.
I’ll conclude with one more poem. This one has an edge to it but also hopefully an invitation to something simpler, maybe even wiser. But who knows? And yes, I had listened earlier to John Denver sing Annie’s Song.
I don’t care about theology.
By that I mean the academic,
systematic kind which is
always arguing for the faith.
I prefer to simply display the
faith and let it fend for itself.
And as for the popular theology
which is all abuzz over making
disciples, I’d much rather make
pancakes, flip them for my kids
on Saturday mornings while we
listen to John sing Annie’s Song.
Mine has become a theology of
the senses, one that makes sense.
If that seems too simple for you,
remember I am but a simple man.
John Blase is a poet and writer living in Colorado with his wife and three children. His next book releases in October from Abingdon Press – Know When To Hold ‘Em: The High Stakes Game of Fatherhood.
Over to you:
- Do you read/write poetry? What do you like about it?
- ‘Hope is the core’ – to what extent does this characterise Christian art?
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