Friday, November 23, 2012

Poetry and Ritual

A man should stir himself with poetry
Stand firm in ritual
Complete himself in music. 
                      Lun Yu (Confucius)

I'm still writing everyday, mostly poetry. I'm thankful for the hour of my I have to detach from the world and remember what's really important. Sometimes I'm scared to stop, I'm scared to really think about my own life. I feel important when I'm busy. Life seems to have a degree of purposefulness, unlike when I'm not busy. I need to remind myself this is not how I intend to live my life. At college I seem to have no choice, it is the way of this lifestyle. After graduation, however, I am determined to shift my focus. Busy does not equal useful. Writing in solitude, even if it's just half of a page, takes me away from that lifestyle, it also teaches me the importance of practicing a ritual and sticking with it.  

I like to write poetry. What is it about poetry that stirs us? Or does it stir us? Why is the subject of poetry not as popular these days? Who actually pays attention to poetry besides those weird English majors (like me)? Is the soul even able to be stirred anymore? Do people still have souls? It seems poetry is connected in some way to reflection of the self as it relates to every-day life. Good poetry speaks from an exclusively unique and personal point of view, yet this perspective also vibrantly resonates within the spirit of each of us. Perhaps it is an ancient spirit, the spirit of humanity, which we can all relate and connect to in our own way. While poetry is a useful venue, I believe the shared spirit of humankind can best be discovered and understood by withdrawing away from everything and entering into a place of stillness...alone. 

In The Sacred Way, author Tony Jones talks about silence and solitude. He retells a story of a little girl who, when asked to describe silence, answered: 

Silence reminds me to take my soul with me wherever I go.

Yes, a little girl said that. Silence isn't just a good option in life, it is meant to canonize our soul. Or in other words, to refine our spirit. If you're anything like me, however, stillness doesn't just happen. We must be intentional. I've been learning a lot about discipline recently. I've discovered that discipline is choosing to get over that initial feeling of resistance toward doing something we might not always want to do...on a regular basis. Henri Nouwen described the art of discipline in better words: 

In the spiritual life, the word "discipline" means "the effort to create some space in which God can act. Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you're not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn't planned or counted on.

Creating space for silence in a culture run by time is like making a cat swallow a pill. Is this a poor analogy? Maybe. Still, if you've ever tried to force a pill down a cat's throat you know exactly what I mean. Just when you think you've succeeded, up comes the stupid small round mass again. Over and over you force the pill in, clamp the cat's mouth shut, slowly count to ten, and let go--only to watch the cat unapologetically spit the thing out on the ground again. So. Frustrating. 

Anyway, I'll try not to ramble. My point is this: It is not easy (nearly impossible) to make cats swallow pills because of the nature of cats--you know their reputation. Think of yourself as the willing participant offering the pill and the cat as the culture (lifestyle) you live in, spiting out your good intentions without a second thought. The cat will hold the pill in its mouth for as long as your hands are there, but as soon as you let go the pill goes out. I think it's inevitable that our good intensions will be spat out until we accept the nature of this culture and look to discover an alternative; perhaps a culture outside this one. We need to recreate our own way of life, a lifestyle in which poetry can actually speak to us, self-discipline free us, and silence truly awaken us. 

As for music? Well...that can wait for another time. ;)



  1. Great words, Danae. Curious about how what you speak of in the last paragraph might actually look...:)I've been thinking about Gethsemani in Kentucky lately...

    1. Thanks Taylor! Hmm Gethsemani...adopting the lifestyle of a Trappist monk would certainly be counter-cultural. Haha.