“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

More on Prayer and Poetry as essential to life itself

Last night I posted my summary of Soelle's argument on the impact of the "enlightenment" on prayer, religion, poetry, and our ability to describe our lived experiences through language that articulates mystery and leaves room for unanswered questions. The enlightenment era emphasized a logical, reasonable answer to every question. Now in our post-modern world we are returning to the notion that somethings will remain a mystery. We are once again taken by the language of the mystics and appreciate some wiggle room with the unknown. There are indeed questions we will never have the answer too this side of life. Why do some people die of suicide, for example, is one question I have been wrestling with. Why? Mother's I know who have lost children to death by suicide spend the rest of their lives asking this question, "Did you not know I loved you more than life itself?" and "How could you leave me with this hole in my life and a pain so deep I will never be whole again?" Without language to articulate our deepest pain, our greatest sorrow, and the reality that life leaves us breathless and full of questions, we suffocate. Not every aspect of life has a logical, reasonable trajectory of cause and effect and an answer that is truth.

Prayer and poetry offer us language into the known that articulates our deepest questions. Prayer and poetry reveal the soul. Here we reveal a deeper truth than logic or reason can ever describe.

Jane Redmont on the blog that posts our "assignments" and reading material for the retreat/course on Dorothee Soelle, posted this:

Simone Weil described prayer as the highest state of attentiveness; to illustrate this immersion and concentration, she refers to solving a problem in mathematics that demands our undivided attention. A poem should demand and create no less attentiveness. There is a kind of speaking that places us into relation with the ground of the depth of being, and without this attentiveness we are capable neither of beauty nor of truth. Poetry that is also prayer does away with the prejudicial notion that prayer is something private, not to be made public. Real attentiveness, which Hölderlin calls "Innigkeit" (depth of intimacy) has no time for that sort of opinion. Everything inward seeks outwardness. When people pray together they give themselves permission again to desire, hope, or dream; they find again the lost language of sharing with one another what they feel. Poetry and prayer are attempts, so to speak, where the separation of public and private, outward and inward become unnecessary and cease to matter.

In response to the question posed to the group in the Soelle course/retreat, "Is prayer the highest state of attentiveness" I concur that it is so. Prayer in all it's forms, silent or with words, written, spoken, thought, felt, as poetry or prose or the screams we exhale in our cars, expresses our highest state of attentiveness to our inner reality.

We do not always have a clear conscious awareness of this inner state. Sometimes it has a hold on us and all the world we see and know is framed by our inner state. The awareness is revealing itself to us and often in hind sight we see it clearly for what it was. Sometimes we can access that inner state perhaps through glimpses gleamed as we write or draw or meditate or talk. I process what is going on in my inner life by meditating, doing yoga, walking, talking, and writing. Sometimes I have an inkling that something is emerging within and I need to enable it to reveal itself to me. This process is creative. Each of us has our own creative process that brings forth that which exists in our higher state of attentiveness. Being attentive is always a logical act. It is a birth process wherein our inner most pieces of our selves, that place where God is speaking through us, where the WORD is alive and birthing with us, labors for breath and life.

Another poem by Mary Oliver to emphasize my point:

I HAPPENED TO BE STANDING
~ Mary Oliver

I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.
While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why. And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t pursuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.
But I t hought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

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Of Prayer and Poetry as Necessary to Life....

Last week's readings from Dorothee Soelle are among the most interesting and compelling I have read thus far in this summer course/retreat, "Soelle Summer" facilitated by Jane Redmont. Soelle writes with great clarity and conviction on the subject of lost language and the subsequent reality of lost experiences. The primary cause for lost language and the inability to articulate life experience is the impact of scientific methodology and the language of the enlightenment. The certainty of this method leads to a progression of thought that lacks narrative, denies the importance of lived experience, making data primary. Soelle writes:

Regarding the "Professionalization of Theology" - Scientific thought and language are taking over and becoming our "theology" - the impact of this, according to Soelle, is a loss of language for prayer and narrative (telling stories/myth). As a society we are losing the language needed to articulate our life experiences - especially complicated experiences such as guilt, suffering and sin. (Soelle's understanding of this reminds me of Barbara Brown Taylor's book, "Speaking of Sin", which I have read several times. Taylor says much the same thing and feels strongly that losing this language will be to the detriment of humanity for we run the risk of denying some important experiences that make life meaningful). (from Essential Writings, page 171).

Soelle goes on to say:

The impact of the Enlightenment era is a belief that there is a logical progression and irreversible development from "myth" to Logos (logos as progressive consciousness). Progressive Consciousness (Logos) reduces myth to an idea. Soelle asks, "Is it true that in time myth, through religion, dies in the Logos?

There are good reasons to deny the idea of progressive secularization (aka the effect of the Enlightenment on religious thought). Inspite of enlightenment religious thought has not become superfulous, has not become insignificant to human decisions.

We come nearer the truth of religious consciouness when we regard it as sharing simultaneously all three forms of religious expression: telling a story - myth, confession, and theology - idea building.

Theology is dependent upon narrative, story telling, retelling myth and articulating experiences. Male appropriation of the world deprives a full expression of the whole story - women's experiences and voices are left out the full narraitve, theology has become one-sided - and in the process has diminished the mythic-narrative (ie the scientific model of describing the world is male and diminished the mythic-narrative experiential dimension of the world).

Prayer and narrative are essential to theology. A new synthesis of myth, religion, and reflection is arising today wherever theology has a liberating character. (page 173).

There is a theology without poetry that through various mechanisms seals itself against the renewal of language. Sentences that are "theopoetic" (envisioning God poetically) are dismissed as "merely literary" and distinguished from the supposedly theological... The most important wall that unpoetic theology has erected against renewal and change is the enslavement of theology to science, in which attempts to crack the ice of the soul are themselves subject to the freezing process. pg 174 - Here Soelle crafts an argument against scientific thought and methodology as it impacts our understanding of faith, God, religion, even as she also acknowledges that there are some benefits to critical reasoning (scientific thought).

"Obviously critical reason has a place in theology and performs a necessary function against superstition and biblicalism. But those who command only the language of science remain ignorant in essential relationships. ...It's greater weakness is that it isolates us from myth, religion, and poetry and suffocates our mythic, religious, poetic nature..." by limiting our language to describe our relationships and lived experiences. (page 174).


Soelle writes: "Mere rational language is not enough. It is too small for our needs. It explains but does not satisfy. It "enlightens" - even if seldom - but does not warm. It defines, sets limits, criticisizes, makes possible distinctions, but the most important works, namely communication, is not attempted in this language....At best the language of the enlightenment forbides making an ideology of God...but the language of the enlightenment does say what it means to love God above all else (from page 175 but edited using my words)....

And then she offers this definition of myth as "the story of the invasion of divine energies into human reality, necessary for expressing the future or even a hope for the world...."

Religious language can teach us to identify our feelings, to know ourselves and make ourselves known. There is a shallowness free of religion that is also directed against poetry. Language itself, which is full of remembrance, opposes that shallowness. (pages 175-176).

Ultimately Soelle is arguing for the use of poetic language and prayer as a means to stay connected to our lived experiences of life and our relationships. She rightly (in my experience) states that as a whole society and theologians have diminished the importance of poetic language by claiming it is "feminine" and therefore of less value than the scientific language of "fact" and "truth." But as Soelle, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Mary Oliver remind me, poetic language harbors a truth deeper than fact, a reality that transcends the superficial and points us the heart of life itself. Here is a great example of poetry as prayer speaking deeply into the reality of life.

The Summer Day

Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad