Spoon River Faith Study Group

(Written as an exercise for the Poetry in America class)

It was in the 1980s and I was living in New York City. I had moved there, after dropping out of college, to be a poet and was supporting myself writing computer programs. Through a local church, I found a group of Christian artists struggling to get by in the great big city. They gathered for various events, and I, being one of the furthest from making a living at my art, stayed in the shadows.

At one event, a woman read Elsa Wertman from Spoon River Anthology.

But—at political rallies when sitters-by thought I was crying
At the eloquence of Hamilton Greene—
That was not it.
No! I wanted to say:
That’s my son! That’s my son!

That woman now performs from a pulpit instead of from a proscenium. She posts on Facebook about her son’s great new job. He didn’t become a member of Congress, like Hamilton Greene did.

I wonder what it would have been like, if my friend had led a faith study group for Elsa Wertman, Aner Clute, Mrs. Kessler and some of the other women in Spoon River. Did Mrs. Kessler ever wash clothes for Elsa Wertman or Aner Clute? What would she have said? Would let them know that everyone has things they try to hide, but that it all comes out in the wash? Would Elsa have broken down in tears and confessed her hurt, her longing? Would Aner Clute found the acceptance and love that always seemed to elude her?

The News

“I read the news today, oh boy “
Earthquakes around Mt. Saint Helens;
is something going to erupt soon?
Further north, the tar sands burn.

Captain America: Civil War
erupted at the box office
as million paid their money
to be entertained
by conflict.

The conflict in Syria rages on
and spills across the region
as I pray for mothers of sons
stationed near the battle lines.

At home
Americans are fighting with words,
but it isn’t any less fierce,
as friends declare their candidacies
for down ticket races
because the top of the ticket
is so messed up.

An award winning journalist
gets barred from a political convention
because he writes articles
critical of the party
and a friend wins praise
for her role
in a battle of wits
with a school yard bully
running for President
on Twitter.

“I read the news today, oh boy “
Is something going to erupt soon?

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I read
“When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d”
at the dinner table
festooned with recently gather flowers
on Mother’s day
and thought of the massive lilac bushes
that grew in front of my childhood home.

When my wife was younger
she would go with her mother
to find lilacs growing in the wood
that they would pick
and bring home.

My wife’s mother
my own
by thirteen years –
predeceased sounds
so cold, so clinical,
so devoid of feeling.

One hundred and fifty one years ago
Abraham Lincoln died
“And the great star early droop’d
in the western sky in the night”.

Five years later
Julia Ward Howe penned
“Arise, then, women of this day!”
calling for a “general congress of women”
in the first Mother’s Day Proclamation.

Yet again, the lilacs bloom,
we honor and remember our mothers,
we mourn,
and call for
true equality,
and an end to wars.

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Poets Anonymous

It stared simply enough,
trying to remember
the poem about
dancing with daffodils,
and not knowing
the poetry hotline number.

Later, I saw something
I can’t remember
what it was now
and so the idea

I started carrying
a small notepad
around with me
which helped much of the time
but then
I would be driving on the parkway
and couldn’t write in my notepad
so I started recording thoughts
speaking into
my cellphone.

I read about
the lack of poetry emergencies
and thought,
“I’m relieved,
but also sad.”

What is it like
to catch a glimpse
or smell a smell
on a fine day
only to have it escape,
even if the idea
is saved
in a notebook
to be written later?

I weep for my stillborn poems,
but not carried to term
and I tell my stories
at Poets Anonymous.
“Hi, my name is Aldon
and I’m a poet.”

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What are you passionate about? What do you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about? What do you get up early in the morning to do? These were the questions we were asked Friday night at the South Central Regional Convocation in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut.

My immediate response was poetry. When I got home, I worked for a little bit on my poem for Friday. Later, I’ll find more time to work on it and then post it online. Now, it is four in the morning, and after waking up in the middle of the night thinking about the convocation, I am up writing. Yes, perhaps I should broaden my passion to writing, and not just poetry. Writing blog posts. Sharing on social media. Email.

I am on a journey. We are all on a journey. Over the past couple years, important parts of the journey have been around poetry. A year ago, this coming Friday, I was at a conference on poetry at Yale Divinity School, an unlikely place for me. While I was there, during a guided meditation, I was overwhelmed by God’s love for me, for all of us, in spite of all the times that we’ve failed, I was overwhelmed by a need to share that love in a way that could be heard and understood here in the twenty-first century.

That moment became a guidepost for me. I have set out with it in my rearview mirror heading down path that leads, well, I’m not sure where it leads yet.

It led me to the Missional Voices conference at Virginia Theological Seminary a few weeks ago. That was an amazing conference. I went down not sure what I was going to or why, not expecting to know anyone, but seeing a few familiar faces. I came back inspired and full of hope.

I remember a few years ago going to a discussion as part of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut’s listening tour in the early days of exploring how we reinvent ourselves. I left disillusioned. I felt to me like a bunch of old members of the priestly establishment looking for ways to hold onto a dying church, the church of the 1950s when everyone still went to the established church, before television and the internet had changed what we do in the evenings or on the weekends, when all but the outcasts and a few others lived in a world where blacks, women, homosexuals, immigrants, you can fill in the rest of the list, knew their place and we were all part of one big happy white European Protestant straight cis male hegemony. I walked away shaking my head and thinking, “Unless the Lord builds the house….”

Okay, it wasn’t really all that bad, but that is what it felt like, and I couldn’t see how rearranging a few things in the church structure was really going to make a big difference.

At the convocation, we were asked to get to mingle, to break the ice, to get to know people we didn’t already know. I spoke with a high school principal, a retired journalist, and a retired electrical engineer. We talked about education, radio, the internet, folk music, and racial justice. We exchanged cards. We talked excitedly about Ministry Networks. I have to stop every time that I write that. Is it Mission Networks or Ministry Networks? In my mind the two are so woven together it is hard to think about them one way without thinking about them the other way. “Are you going to be here tomorrow? … Great. Let’s talk more about this then!”

Can moving a few chairs around and talking to different people really make a big difference? Can some of the energy of the Missional Voices conference stir things up in The Episcopal Church of Connecticut?

We ended with compline, and I tweeted a grainy picture of the crowd seated in a circle holding candles with the hashtag #compline.

On the way home, I listened to some of the music we will be singing today. “We are marching in the light of God… That’s why we praise him… Here I am, Lord”

Thursday was Ascension Day, and Friday I posted my poem about it, ending off with waiting for Pentecost. Today, I will go to the Regional Convocation, praying first, seeking racial justice, singing to God, and hopefully, even writing a poem. Tomorrow, I am scheduled to read the second lesson appointed for the Sunday before Pentecost.

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come."
And let everyone who hears say, "Come."
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

The one who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon."

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

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