Thursday, August 21, 2008

Poetry and prayer...

Before Dianne married me, I was a cretin when it came to poetry. I knew "Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe: all mimsy were the borogoves and the mome raths outgrabe. 'Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun the frumious Bandersnatch!" but that was about it. She was a poet - and a fabric artist, too - and I was a moron when it came to art (except for music and movies and literature.)

Now, after many, many years (mostly beautiful and all blessed in their own curious ways)I find poems help me pray. One of the first poems Di turned me on to came from Pat Mora, Latina writer from El Paso, whose "Lesson I" continues to speak to me on so many levels:

The desert is powerless
when thunder shakes the hot air
and unfamiliar raindrops slide
on rocks, sand, mesquite,
when unfamiliar raindrops overwhelm
her, distort her face.
But after the storm, she breathes deeply,
caressed by a fresh sweet calm,
My Mother smiles rainbows.

When I feel shaken, powerless
to stop my bruising sadness,
I hear My Mother's whisper: Mi'ja

don't fear your hot tears
cry away the storm, then listen, listen.

I have prayed these words for years now - whenever I don't know what I am feeling but want to cry - this poem/prayer gives me permission to let the tears flow. And curiously, like rain in the desert which we adored for a decade, after the tears flow... clarity and a certain serenity surfaces.

I have this same reaction to George Harrison's, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." I realized last night that I have been listening to this song - praying it and weeping it, too - for 40 years! And it never, ever grows old for me - especially Clapton's guitar prayer of lament that punctuates and then culminates the song - it always grabs my by the throat like Psalm 51: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me... have mercy on me and blot out my offenses; wash me again and again from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

This version of the song comes from Clapton's "Concert for George" and it always unglues me - for almost 120 minutes George Harrison's friend, Eric Clapton, pays sweet and tender homage to his old friend by playing his songs carefully and with reverence. Sure, Eric Idle and Micahel Palin do their Monty Python schtick, Badfinger does an incredible version of "Here Comes the Sun" and others sing, too, but Clapton plays it straight... until the end when he let's his heart break playing the guitar solo he first created in 1968: "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

The concert took place on the one year anniversary of Harrison's untimely death to cancer... and when his dear friend - who ironically once wooed Harrison's wife, Patti, and wrote "Layla" about her - lets go with all the heartbreak and pathos a guitar can express, it is like God wailing for the wounds we create over and over again. It is a prayer of incredible prowess...

Makes me think of D.H. Lawrence who wrote:

I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections.
And it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly,
that I am ill.
I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self
and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time, only time
can help
and patience, and a certain difficult repentance,
long, difficult repentance, realisation of life's mistakes, and the
freeing oneself
from the endless repetition of the mistake
which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.

Tonight I give thanks for the time to rest and think... and pray the poems that heal my soul.


Katherine E. said...

Thanks for commenting on my blog, RJ.

I've been awakened to poetry in recent years as well. Beautiful way into prayer...

Are you the one I heard interviewed on NPR recently?

RJ said...

Oh how I wish it was me on NPR... but no, alas! But maybe someday. I have a book searching for publication re: a spirituality of rock but.. that's for another time. Thanks for your kind words. And keep sharing your blog: it is tender and so true.

Real Live Preacher said...

RJ, Anyone who can work Clapton into a post on theology and prayer and poetry is on my short list of enjoyable blogs.

I featured this today at


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