A few months ago I went through Julia Cameron’s It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again with a few friends via video conferencing. It awakened a new creative spirit in me I wrote about this summer. Last week we resumed our weekly gatherings with a new format. We are using a prompt each week to fuel our visual arts, poetry, journaling, etc.–whatever arises for each person.
So, while we go through this series, I’m sharing some of my responses. If you are a regular reader, you have noticed that mixed media and poetry are my latest creative outlets. Recently I attended a poetry reading where I was inspired to try writing haiku and tanka. (In brief, haiku employs three lines of 5/7/5 syllables, tanka has five lines of 5/7/5/7/7 syllables.) I am also surprising myself by enjoying my attempts at writing sonnets. I hope you enjoy this exploration in creativity. The weeks appear in ascending order, with the most recent at the top.
WEEK TWELVE THEME: Messages that arrive at odd moments
PROMPT: Fifteen syllables to decipher me
QUOTE: “My life is my message.” –Mahatma Gandhi
I can think of no better response to the prompt this week…
WEEK ELEVEN THEME: Sky
PROMPT: Cerulean–a deep blue, resembling the sky. Use this for inspiration, capturing the meaning or “feel” of the word without using it, through the use of vivid imagery.
QUOTE: “Going around under an umbrella interferes with one’s looking up at the sky.” –Jerzy Kosinski
(A two-verse tanka) I asked science why the sky is blue, not red or green or yellow. It had an answer for me so I suppose it makes sense. I still wonder if all those prayers wafting upward have an azure hue: profound sadness, or questions or a deep-colored yearning. Depth Perception Everywhere you look a snapshot a scene often assuming there is a backdrop only yards away or several miles at most when really what is over your shoulder is a canvas light years deep changing its hue every moment. Say cheese! "Barn's burnt down-- now I can see the moon." Mizuta Masahide
WEEK TEN THEME: Capturing a moment
Prompt: Flash, band, whizz, pop, boom
Quote: We like no noise unless we make it ourselves.” –Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de Sevigne
"Capture the Moment: A Thesaurus" Apprehend the shallow baby breath on my neck as I rock her to sleep, reluctant to put her down for her nap. Record her sweet three-year-old voice singing "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," their favorite lullaby. Occupy their toddler territory and seize the tower of boxes Link insists on building and knocking down over and over and over again. Capture Rydia's chatty narration of her ice cream/Hershey syrup/sprinkles mixture as she stirs it to the perfect consistency with a pink baby spoon. Take by force Link's swagger when he spikes the balloon over the hassock "net" in our family room. Gain control over their jealousy and teach them to take possession of their precious sibling alliance. Abduct our grasping, happy boy as he clings to my shoulders in the YMCA pool before splashing away. Arrest his hand slipped in mine as we walk to the park on a golden autumn afternoon. Confiscate Rydia's paintings rendered in the colors she relishes when I ooze them out on the palette, carefully composed and then inevitably smooshed together, brushes abandoned. Imprison them under the quilt-covered card table connected to the cardboard tunnel so they won't grow up so fast. Take the hugs and laughter and breathless questions and treasure my acquisitions. Verbs too violent, selfish impulse to grab what is better left to float aimlessly each memory taking gentle flight enjoyed from my vantage in plodding time snatching my attention for a moment leaving me resigned yet content with that little I can hold.
WEEK NINE THEME: Sing-along!
Prompt: Write a poem that contains the title of one of your favorite songs. Extra challenge: Write a poem that has an opposing theme.
Quote: “Life is like a beautiful melody, only the lyrics are messed up.” –Hans Christian Andersen
#1 Tanka form My questions today: How can I keep from singing? Why would I want to? A morning in Africa, echoing my mother’s voice.* *My mother liked to sing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from “Oklahoma” on a beautiful day. I broke out into that song on a gorgeous day in Mali. #2 I walk around my neighborhood and wonder at the sights: a sleeping dog, a pale white moon, the softness of the light. I need not step outside my door for each day keeps on bringing a glimpse, a touch, and so much more, how can I keep from singing? #3 A Hymn Comes to Mind Trudging for hours on a rocky trail, reaching the mountain’s crown, my body exhausted but spirit won’t fail to celebrate with a song. My grandchild sags drowsy within my arms, the lullabies doing their duty. He sleepily asks for just one more instinctively craving the beauty. I’ve stood with the rest in community choir, our voices raised strong to proclaim the breathtaking message of Handel’s “Messiah,” the glory of Jesus’ name. But holier still is a quiet room with a family softly crying; I form the words of a well-loved tune to their dear one as she lies dying. A mountain view, a child’s nap time, or consolation bringing— whether soft or loud, random or rhymed, how can I keep from singing?
WEEK FOUR THEME: Cut it Out
Prompt: Oh, I can’t fit through that.
Quote: “I once had a garden filled with flowers that grew only on dark thoughts but they need constant attention and one day I decided I had better things to do.” –Brian Andreas
WEEK THREE THEME: When Old Meets New
Prompt: “I opened my eyes and had no idea where I was…”
Quote: “Gratitude takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder.” –Thomas Merton
My response to the prompt: I woke up some nights not knowing where I was. The bedroom in the parsonage where I stayed on Saturday nights was comfortable enough. The bed had been purchased for my use, and it was cozy on winter nights. Yet I did not feel at home. I never felt at home in that place. Such is the plight of the interim pastor, who is called to serve a people who have said goodbye to someone they trusted and now have to work hard to find someone new to lead them. The relationship is brief by design (if they are lucky), so relationships are functional, not congenial. Except when they are. Some folks are naturally welcoming and eager to work with whoever is willing to love them and serve God alongside them. This is what makes ministry a joy. But others hold back, understandably. So the interim pastor is held at arm’s length. Her suggestions are viewed with skepticism, her sermons weighed for theological heft and sifted through filters of political and traditional ideologies. Add a pandemic and the task of learning the ropes of recording or streaming worship, with no volunteers answering the call for help, and it is a lot to deal with. It is a tough business. I thought I was equal to the task, with God’s help and guidance. I was in many ways, and I had been certain of the call. But I was also lonely. Preaching to a mostly empty sanctuary was demoralizing. Saturday nights in the parsonage were quiet and heavy with unwelcome solitude. I could have reached out to people, visited some of the elderly on the nights I stayed over. Before COVID-19 interfered, I did some of that. But here is another secret your pastor might not tell you: we fear rejection just like everyone else. Sometimes we are shy and don’t want to appear too pushy. And sometimes we are just too tired after leading worship to go out on a cold night after heating up something in the microwave. Sometimes we are just lazy. Maybe I was lazy. I’ve never been accused of that, but it could apply. I do know this. There were nights when I woke up and did not know where I was.
WEEK TWO THEME "Attitude of Gratitude" Prompt: "I thank my lucky stars for...." Quote: "This is a wonderful day. I have never seen this one before." --Maya Angelou
A tanka about those lucky stars: Out on the prairie I slept under lucky stars watching my family bless me with abundant love and memories worth keeping.
Today is the day my heart has been waiting for only trouble is the gifts are hidden shallow and I have to look for them.
"This is a wonderful day" feels hollow when a friend mourns a grandbaby's death and vigilantism is virtually condoned only a few hundred miles away. I want to see the wonderful in this day, so I need the help of the Holy One I tell everyone else to rely on, to lean into, to trust for overcoming the brokenness of this world and the despair in my heart. My consolation in this new day is that when I sit with the pain, I am not alone. A haiku: "You're getting warmer" Love said as I sat with the brokenness and pain.
Prompt: “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.” –Anais Nin
How We See Things
I think I see what’s written on your face--
a calm expression to portray the thought
that all is well and everyone’s at peace--
despite the fact that happiness is not
the underlying feeling that you bear,
but is it easier to wear the mask
than opening to show what’s really there,
or risking weakness should I dare to ask?
The pain you carry—do I want to know?
Or would I rather skim the surface of
your features, lest you let your feelings show,
and take the time required to offer love
that sees beyond the moment’s passing glimpse,
and lets your story draw me deeper in?
I had some fun thinking of how we see each other and what I could make to portray the mystery of each individual, while at the same time seeing what we expect in one another. In this piece I made the girls symmetrical close up, but more individual with a deeper look. Are they two girls, or the same person with a variety of traits and interests? Hmm....
Finally, a tanka:
When you pass me by
do you care to see my pain
or am I only
flyover country, glimpsed from
thirty thousand feet above?