I haven’t done one of these in awhile, so I figured it was about time that I got back on track with this series of posts…
[Trigger warning: Sensitive topics]
One of the most prevalent things that I write about is God. There’s no ifs ands or buts about it. There’s a reason why my first really cohesive collection is Drunk Dialing the Divine– it’s not that I don’t write anything but Catholic-Christian poetry, it’s just that I write these kinds of poems in a very frank way, and also in a very forceful way. They aren’t the most pious of poems, in the conventional sense (with titles like ‘Drunk Dialing the Divine’, ‘God is a Nutter’, ‘Unusual Penance’, what would you really expect?), but they are rather profound. And though they seem irreverent at first blush, they most obviously aren’t- these poems readily get published through Christian journals such as Time of Singing, GLOW, devozine and Radix, as well as being distributed through parishes, through such publications as the More Informed, or religious schools in the literary magazine of Regis University, the Apogee- my poetry has even been taught in local high school youth groups. (I’m doing a reading for a group in an Englewood church on Friday).
So here’s a little background on where this aggressively devotional poetry comes from:
I was raised Catholic, in a Catholic family, made up of Germans and Irish people who probably have no idea what not being Catholic even looks like. I was a cantor for my Sunday mass regularly since eighth grade (though I had cantored my own First Communion), and went to CCD classes. I went to every retreat offered from middle school to high school, volunteered as a middle school mentor for awhile, was apart of the CORE team at my high school, led retreats and gave testimonials, and went on two mission trips with my youth group (once to Juarez, Mexico, and another time to Kakamega, Kenya). I chose to go to a Jesuit university, where I am now double-majoring in Religious Studies and English, and work as a Sacristan at the masses. My relationship with the Church as always been pretty solid. I love the rituals. I love the rhythm of it. I love the community aspect of it. While I don’t always agree with specific parts of Catholic dogma, I at least appreciate the thought that goes in to all of the different parts of it. I love how intellectual the Church is, and has been, throughout the ages. I love how it isn’t individualistic, and focuses on the Church as a whole first.
What I have had problems with, numerous times, is God. You know how some people wish they could have God without the Church? I’ve often found myself thinking the other way around. Why couldn’t we have this amazing organization, community, ritual and togetherness without the messiness of a personal deity?
This comes from a place of personal anger, of course. I was born with autism, which was much more crippling when I was younger than it now that I have my coping mechanisms. I was born with people blaming my mother, whom I love, for being a bad mother because of the way I was born. I was born listening to people use people like me as their reason not to believe in God. To this day, I still wake up every morning angry as all get out about being born in such a way that I cannot avoid hurting the people I love or myself just by trying to be myself.
I’ve also had a bunch of horrible crap happen to me. I’ve been molested, raped, verbally and physically abused- my best friend died when I was eight- I grew up in an area that, while affluent, had a very high suicide rate- and I have had someone try to suffocate me to death with a pillow for not wanting to kiss them.
I’ve listened to my friends tell me about the horrible things that happened to them- drug addiction, incest, being beaten, parents/ siblings being killed in front of them, abortion, etc.- and found myself even angrier that there was so much sickness in this world that it made me seem like I was a lucky person.
And you know what? No ‘This is God’s plan’ or ‘It will all work out somehow’ seemed to make that better. You can’t tell me that horrible stuff like the things I’ve been through, like the things that the people I love have been through, are the machinations of the loving God that was talked about in the homily every week. I almost couldn’t handle it.
But the thing is- my love for the Church wouldn’t let me let go of my love for God. The practices of my faith basically tricked me into letting God into my heart- despite all of my anger and plans to renounce Him- and let Him persist for Love of me.
So where does poetry come in?
I’m not perfect. And I’m not going to tell you that my faith story is ended and resolved. Or that it’s happy right now. Or that it’s mostly happy. Because, at most, that would probably be a half-truth. Read my poetry, and you’re probably going to understand that about three lines in. My religious poetry is not some explanation of revelation or theology that I’ve solidified- it’s my own relationship with God that I’m trying to really work out.
The only solid thing I’ve got to go on is ‘Things are Because God is’.
And I share these with you because I’m not preaching- I’m trying to have a discussion. I want people to read these poems and go ‘I’ve thought that before’ or ‘you’re so far off’ and have a conversation about it. There’s not enough conversation, especially in the arts, with the Church. We need more. And I’m just a start.
Edit: I realize that this sounds a bit downer, I did end up going on a tad of a rant there. I do assure you that I am completely in love with God, whatever our differences may be, and that I in no way condone not returning God’s love. Though I am largely angry, I am also largely content- I’m kind of like the Hulk in the way that I manage my anger about existence. You can be angry and happy at the same time. I promise.