Saturday, December 28, 2013

Who Rescued Whom

In her book Ancestral Intelligence Vera Schwarcz shares her renditions of some of the "jottings" of Chinese historian and poet Chen Yinke (1890-1969). She describes Yinke as, "a man who never tired or rescuing words." The idea of poet as rescuer appealed to me. Ironically I see it the other way around too. Sometimes I am rescued by a word.

Yesterday I was working on a collection of poems I started two years ago, although some of the poems are older than that. I made a New Year's resolution in 2012 to complete the collection. Then last year, since I hadn't finished it, I re-resolved to do it in 2013. It's not totally finished yet, but at least I have selected the poems that will be the collection.

For me, revision is an unending process. As Paul Valery said, "a poem is never finished, only abandoned." So as I was going over these poems, there was one with a title I didn't like. I like my titles to enhance the poem without giving too much away. This title was flat out exposition. I turned to my old friend Roget and looked up the word "thanks." I was offered twelve choices beginning with "gratitude" and ending with "gramercy." Gramercy? Wasn't that a park in New York? Well, indeed, it is, but it seems there is also an archaic meaning of expressing thanks from the French: grand merci. (Evidently the etymology of the NYC park goes back to a Dutch word meaning "little crooked swamp," but that didn't make any sense for my poem).

So now I have  poem titled "Gramercy." I was excited about finding this word and putting it back in circulation, and, at the same time, grateful to Roget for rescuing me from a dull title. Gramercy to Monsieur Roget.

I haven't decided what my New Year's resolution for 2014 will be, but I still have a few days left.

Friday, December 20, 2013

My Churches

On Christmas Eve after the presents are opened, the dishes loaded into the dishwasher, and the guests have left for home, I will sit for just a minute and look at the tree. Then I will bundle myself up and travel down the road to the candlelight service at church. This is always a highlight of my holiday. The beautiful music, the warm candlelight, and the familiar story of wanderers finding crude shelter where their baby will be born amid the animals all remind me once again of what this season is about.

When I speak here of church, I am speaking of the church I attend nearly every Sunday—Trinity United Methodist Church in Springfield, MA. The stone cathedral structure next to Forest Park is quite recognizable to anyone in the Springfield area. It is a beautiful building, but when I refer to the church, I am really talking about the people there. Everyone from the toddler playing peek-a-boo from two pews up to the man from AA who comes in silently, then leaves. Trinity is a warm and welcoming place.

This is why it pains me so when I hear about the other church—that larger church we are a part of—The United Methodist Church. That church has been in the news lately and not for being warm and welcoming—quite the opposite. That church has tried and convicted one of its clergy for violating church law—a law that forbids clergy from marrying couples of the same sex. In effect, that church has punished one of its members for showing love and compassion.

I struggle with being a member of these two churches, and I know I’m not alone. Can I go along worshiping and working in the church that ministers to everyone while, at the same time, being a part of that other church that excludes, judges, and condemns? I don’t know.

A couple of Christmases ago as I entered Trinity for the candlelight service, I saw one very bright star alone in the sky right over the church. I thought, of course, of the Magi who were guided by the star. This Christmas I will pray for that light to fall on both of my churches.

My Church

This is my church - doors open to the noise of the city
This is not my church - doors safely closed

This is my church - hands stretched across barriers
This is not my church - hands rigidly folded

This is my church - a harmony of diverse voices
This is not my church - a monotone of narrow doctrine

This is my church - hearts warmed by love
This is not my church - love limited by decree

My church -
not the closed inn doors
but the welcoming stable.