27 February 2006

Welcome to Poetry & Faith!


Hello! Welcome to my blog. This site is dedicated to involvement, excellence, experimentation, and leadership by Christians in the arts. My personal commitment is to writing, particularly poetry, but I also welcome conversations about painting, sculpture, drama, music, drawing, photography, dance, mime, etc.: whatever you think is an art form that can be used for God’s glory! Many of you, my friends, and I have had on-going email discussions in which we evaluate, critique, react to, and suggest improvements on each others’ writing. I would love to see this site become a larger version of that: Please post your own writing and other work, then launch into detailed critiques of my work and each others’. Let this become a forum for writing and creating excellence!
I also hope to carry on dialogue about concerns of the spiritual and the aesthetic. The particular issues I will be discussing in my posts will include the following:
* What is good poetry (writing, art, etc.)?
* Why aren’t Christians the best poets (writers, etc.) out there today?
* Saying the same thing another way: Why is most “Christian” poetry garbage? Don’t we have revelation?
* What is “sacramental” writing?
* How exactly does “subcreation” work?
* What does it look like to have the Holy Spirit for your Muse?
* Do you have to view the world a certain way in order to write about it? Or are many worldviews valid foundations for great art?
* And, following from that question, one of my personal difficulties right now: Does a Christian Neo-Platonist philosophy freeze the creative juices or block the Muse? Several poets on poetry I’ve been reading lately, including Scott Cairns and Luci Shaw, believe so.
Please respond with your creative thoughts! And, to get the critique part started, here is a haiku:

So, go ahead. Start
any time now. I’m ready.
(I’m not, so I am.)

Admonit (Iambic Admonit)


Rosie Perera said...

Hey Sorina, great blog topic! I look forward to reading it and participating in the discussion.

You might also be interested in the blog of another friend of mine, an Arts Pastor in Austin, TX, who is asking some of the same questions. See He's recently moved over to blogspot, but all his old posts, including lots of good stuff, are still up at his previous blog: Diary of an Arts Pastor,

Mehitchcock said...

I really like the line "(I'm not. So I am.)" This is how the Taoists, Confucians, and Bhuddists all talk about enlightenmen. I only learned from you that Christianity shares the technique.
I look forward to reading this blog, and in it's spirit I will ask, have you considered putting a period between "Start" and "anytime now?"
It seems like it would imply a greater period of waiting that way. That kind of waiting in a state of unready readiness that I found so interesting about the haiku in the first place.
Again I must stress how much I enjoyed the line "(I'm not. So I am.)"

Iambic Admonit said...

Thanks for your comment! I would love to hear more about that line you like. What do you think it means? Can you give me a prose paraphrase? Because it was not intended to refer to enlightenment. Would other people give their input? What is santification, first of all? And then how does that last line work? I don't want to give my interpretation first; I'd rather see more of your thoughts. Thanks!
Oh, and about breaking up "Start" and "any time now" -- I don't think so. That would be a bit too commanding, demanding, rude. But then maybe it would show how much I need the process to begin!
~ S

Mehitchcock said...

"I'm not. So I am" is one of those phrases with possibility of infinate regress. A contradiction that is true. A statement that makes only mystical, magical or holy sense.
What I got from the phrase is that you're only ready when you're in a state of non-thought, but not dullness.
Aha! Have you ever dropped a glass while washing the dishes and caught it again, all before your mind was able to process reality and react? That would be the same feeling.
I'm sorry it's such a hard concept for me to explain.
It contains all that I just said, plus the kind of open heart you described in "Sunlight."

Rosie Perera said...

I, too, liked the line "I'm not. So I am." It works well separated into two sentences and set off with parentheses. The "I am" part brought to my (Christian) mind the "I AM" of God, and also the "cogito ergo sum" of Descartes. I loved the context in which you placed the haiku -- as the launching of a new blog that you weren't quite ready for but took the plunge anyway. I admire your chutzpa (having wimped out on a similar adventure myself).

One thing I'm not so sure about is the title "Sanctification." It sounds sort of like gratuitous Christianese. Sure, I can see how taking a step you're not quite ready for, and trusting that in taking it you become more ready, is a step on the way towards sanctification. But I wonder whether it's necessary to be that explicit about it in the title.

Iambic Admonit said...

Many, many thanks to Rosie for sending the link to that Arts Pastor. This guy has said much that I am thinking and trying to say right now! Please read his Feb. 20th posting. He has an insightful and incisive perspective on this arts and faith thing. Tammy, if you are reading this, would you maybe post something telling us about your pastor and how he uses the arts in your church services?
I’m going to steal the quotes used by that Arts Pastor:

"By the words 'Christian Art' I do not mean Church art. . . . I mean Christian art in the sense of art which bears within it the character of Christianity. . . . It is the art of redeemed humanity." —Jacques Maritain, "Christian Art," Art & Scholasticism
Yes, exactly. Rosie, you said once sent me a list of contemporary Christian poets, and you said that the emphasis was on the “poets,” not on the “Christian.” Because these are men and women who are poets. That is what they do, that is how they see the world: through the organization of beautiful words. And of words into beauty. And of beauty into words. And since they are Christians, since they are regular people redeemed into truth and life, that is also how they see the world. But that doesn’t mean they are always or even usually or even often writing about doctrine, the Bible, or their “testimony.” In fact, they may not often use any sort of God-talk or Christian clichés. I’d like to pick up your comment here on my haiku. Or on the title. Hum. “Gratuitous Christianese”? That’s just (or one just) what I want to avoid. Simply because it is not fresh, it is not new, it may be worn out. Let me give me prose paraphrase, and see if the title is still unnecessary.
(I’m not, so I am)
Thank you for pointing out the allusion to the YHVH, the I AM of Scripture. Yes. Of course. Here’s the strange loop Michael is seeing. I am not ready to be made more holy, because if I were ready, I’d be holy, so I wouldn’t need it! In other words, some part of me does not desire to be Christ-like. That is what needs to be changed. Yet through that dead man, I cry out to be changed. It is Augustine pleading, “Make me chaste—just not yet!” So I wonder: If I lose the title, do I lose some of that specificity? Is it christianspeak, or is it simply the best technical term?
And the larger question, of course, is: How do we say exactly what we want to say, theologically, without using the same old words? Isn’t sanctification exactly it? Well, the answer, or one of them, I give to myself: Show, don’t tell. Why say what it is if the life of it is in the picture? Such as Hopkins’ “HOPE holds to Christ the mind’s own mirror out / To take His lovely likeness more and more.” Or how about his inimitable (the word for Hopkins) “Patience”? All very hard tasks. See Herbert, as well. And back now to where we started, with another quote stolen from the Arts Pastor:

"Do not say that a Christian art is impossible. Say rather that it is difficult, doubly difficult -- fourfold difficult, because it is difficult to be an artist and very difficult to be a Christian, and because the total difficulty is not simply the sum but the product of these two difficulties multiplied by one another: for it is a question of harmonizing two absolutes. Say that the difficulty becomes tremendous when the entire age lives far from Christ, for the artist is greatly dependent upon the spirit of his time. But has courage ever been lacking on earth?" —Jacques Maritain
Amen! And add to that another of your points, Rosie, that the Christian poet is often muted by the fear of heterodoxy. Does a slavish obedience to the creed limit our vocabulary? Perhaps the operative word there is “slavish.” I’m a big fan of orthodoxy. And of the language of orthodoxy. The words matter. It does matter whether, for example, I choose Christ or God makes me alive. This is not the place to debate which! Yet there is the truth, which C. S. Lewis (my hero) loves to pound home to us: All our verbal/linguistic ways of saying these things are metaphors. Any description of how the Crucifixion worked—a legal exchange, a sacrificial substitute, a bridge-building, an adoption, a ransom—are metaphors. Yes, it is important to express what happened Then, it matters what words we use, but the Reality is somehow above and beyond and more than what can be contained in our own words.
And that, my friends, is one reason we will keep writing poems over and over and over and over again! We will never finish telling “The old, old story.” But we (read “I”) must find fresh language for doing so.

Rosie Perera said...

A fine defense of your use of the word “Sanctification.” Good enough for me. It is true that sometimes a technical word is the best one for the job. Perhaps my only remaining doubt about the title now is that it forces the subject matter to be about sanctification, whereas without the title (or with a more ambiguous title), the haiku would remain open to the interpretation I suggested, which had to do with you inviting us to go ahead and start posting to your blog and critiquing your poetry. Which, in a sense, is part of the process of sanctification as well, so I guess the title still works. Hey, I'm in this process of sanctification, too, so my critiques need to be critiqued... :-)

Regarding the “slavish” obedience to orthodoxy: I am a fan of orthodoxy as well, and I believe it is not only desirable but often attainable. However probably not as often as we like to think. Why would it be, then, that two groups of deeply sincere and biblically/historically rooted Christians could come to different conclusions about what is the orthodox answer on a given theological question? If orthodoxy were easy, we wouldn't have church splits. And we'd all be Catholics. Or perhaps Eastern Orthodox, if the Orthodox are correct that Catholic Church split off from them.

Continuing on this subject of the fear of heterodoxy, I like what Augustine said in Chapter 40, Paragraph 60 of On Christian Doctrine [click to follow link], which is often summarized as his “plundering the Egyptians” passage (though he doesn't actually use that phrase). If Christian poets (or artists) find they can express truth in words that are not strictly “orthodox” then by all means we should use them. Sorina, this ties in with what I was saying in an earlier email to you about your Crows sestina in which you honored the ancient pagan understanding of the natural world, even though it might not be how orthodox Christians would explain it. But pagans have access to some aspects of the truth too, and we do ourselves an injustice if we ignore what they have to teach us. The main argument I would give for limiting our use of Christian theological terms in certain kinds of writing is so that it isn't off-putting to those who don't speak our language, so that we can remain in dialogue with them and learn from each other. It really depends on who you expect your audience to be, I guess.

Your mention of Augustine's “Make me chaste—just not yet!” reminds me of the demon-possessed boy's father saying “I believe. Help thou my unbelief.” That's another version of what you're saying with the line “I'm not. So I am.”

Enjoyed Hopkins' “Patience.” I had never read it before. This all reminds me of that joke you've probably seen on bumper stickers or refrigerator magnets: Lord, give me patience. And hurry up about it!