I’ve been working on my final project for my poetry writing class, which involves looking back over the work I’ve done this semester. In the course of this, I found this essay I wrote at the beginning of the class. It sums up so much about who I am and what I want to do with my life that I thought I’d post it here. Enjoy!
The question of what I want to write about is inextricably tied up with what kind of writer I wish to be. Although I have been writing poetry longer, I have come to realize that my true vocation is to be a theologian. I anticipate spending much of my professional career writing and teaching about God. However, theology and poetry have much in common – they are both about something that cannot really be expressed or explained. God is the ultimate mystery. No matter how deeply we delve there will always be more depths to explore. I think every poem (at least good poems) are small mysteries. A true poem is a sum that is greater than all its parts, using everyday words and constructions to brush up against those depths. In some ways poetry can be understood as the attempt to use words to show us something that cannot be described. The theologian would say that this is God. To be a great theologian is to be a person so full of God that He leaks out of your pores. One of the ways God can leak out of a person is poetry. There is a long tradition of theologian poets. Thomas Aquinas was one. We sing his great love poems to the Eucharist every Holy Thursday. John Paul II was another. I hope that one day I may be one too.
I was once told that every artist who paints the human figure, no matter who that portrait is supposed to be, really paints themselves over and over again. I do not know how much I believe it – my source has a history of being careless about the things she cares to repeat – however, I think that there is something to what she said. We are all of us narcissists. What we really want to write about is ourselves. However, there is more to it than narcissism. The only experience of being human we will ever know is our own. To know what it means to be human, what distinguishes the human from all the rest of the world, means to begin with ourselves. If you believe, as I do, that the human person is created in the image and likeness of God, then to know ourselves we must also know God. And we’re back to theology again.
They say that St. Francis of Assisi once sat up all night asking God, “Who are you and who am I?” They don’t say whether he ever got any answers.
To write about humanity is to write about love. We are such odd things, we human beings. We are body and soul, all mixed together such that, even when artificially separated from our bodies in death we cry out to be reunited. We are fragile and terrible at the same time. And we do not exist in this world alone. We live with other people, and interact with them. Sometimes we even love them. By this I do not mean romantic love, although that is a part of it, and traditionally the part that poets find easiest to write about. Instead I’m talking about the blood and bone sort of love, the kind of love that came to us with nails through His hands and thorns on His head. This is the love that does dishes and changes dirty diapers and takes out the trash without being asked. This is the stuff of everyday heroism, the stuff that adds up to true holiness, the stuff out of which saints are made.
So this is what I want to write about: what it means to be human, to be made, both body and spirit, in the image and likeness of God, and what it means to love other embodied persons as we experience it in the most concrete details of our everyday life. This is a project that would demand the best of both theology and poetry, applied over a lifetime of continuous effort. I can’t wait!