Thursday, July 14, 2011

Poem: Church


I haven't said much here about my journey away from religion. I'd rather not get into it much on the blog, as it's a conversation best done in person, where the back and forth of body language, facial expressions and words are fuller and quicker. But for whatever reason, today I feel the urge to share a poem I wrote in 1995 at the nadir of my journey away from church. Of course by posting it, I am opening a window for conversation, and I'm OK with that, albeit somewhat tentatively. (I find it interesting how rules about not embarking in conversation on topics like religion and politics seem to have slipped aside to some degree in our blogs.) Maybe time will tell if I am courageous, or merely foolish, to post this.

It's important that you know that I hold nothing against church going in general. I know that there are many good reasons for it, including spiritual bliss, which I've experienced. But I like you knowing something of my own lifelong process of looking for spirituality beneath religion. This is a quest I have felt since my earliest memories, even when my own father preached sermons from a Baptist pulpit. My father and mother were some of the most beautiful Christians I have known, with deep felt and earnest beliefs, often taking them in directions starkly contradicting the convictions of people in their own parish. I admire them for this strength, sincerity and zeal. That I was wounded somewhat in the unfolding of their lives is perhaps ultimately more about me than them. I understand also that some of the very symbols that cause me distress, are deeply and joyfully meaningful to others. I hope my poem doesn't hurt or offend anyone, as that is the last thing I want.

Lest you worry when reading the poem that there was any abuse toward me personally or from my parents toward anyone, there was none. While the poem is very personal in a spiritual sense of woundedness, it is more general in the literal.

Anyway, here is one expression of my spiritual journey. I wonder what it will mean, to you. While I love some churches and cathedrals — sitting in them, wandering in them, looking at icons, smelling burning candles, feeling the cool quiet when it is hot and boisterous outside, praying, listening to silence or to music — Church — for me — is another thing altogether.

I welcome your responses, to the poem, or to my opening remarks.


I saw a red window.

Through it the sun in swords.
When light attacks
the skin of pews,
dissolves the frames of fifty strong
sets of arms
and wrought iron lights puncture
and nail supplications
along ceiling beams,

then I know that there are secrets
that wait like wine in cups,
undergarments stained,
wads of bandages under the altar,
some plotting of ambushes
in the marbled veins of windows,
boxes of medals and strategies hidden
in baptistry dust,
the old anticipation of hymns
lined up in battalions,
of the coming,
the coming of a great army,
a mighty platoon dragging all the prohibitions
like sediment, bottles, broken machinery,
parachutes, collapsed

I shoulder this window,
jagged, perforating my skin,
a thorny cross,
a house with wounded furnishings,
a drape of walls hanging
like rags from a carcass,
a make-shift hospital vacated
after the troops have lost
their legs, their arms.

It is only a window,
a sanctuary,
a sifter of days.




hedgewitch said...

Religion, while mostly a foreign language to me personally, I feel is always a fruitful vehicle for exploring the spiritual for those who choose to make it so, as you do here. I think there is a clear distinction between church(religion) and faith(spirituality.) Religion, when all is said and done, is a construct of human minds and words, just as a church is a building. It's what's within the construct, what can happen in the building, that goes to the deeper well. Or so I see it, and so I seem to read it here, in a fine piece of writing, full of courage and insight as well as pain.

Maureen said...

This, to me, is deeply felt, an enormously vivid rendering of personal pain over what is not given up to those who seek. What rightly should have salved brings instead "all the prohibitions".

An irony, of course, is that Church no longer is much of or at all "a sanctuary". Think of all those doors locked at night.

The window is a wonderful metaphor. In my own poem of the same title ("Church" is in my book), I wrote: "Look,/ a door walls /pews a bell / faith changes/ nothing // I can stand / out/ I can stand / in// The test's the same".

Grandmother said...

I understand your hesitance but thank you for your courage. For those of us walking a spiritual, if not religious, path, it helps to share. Ultimately "it is only a window" no matter what our history brings to it. I winced at the secrets in wine cups and undergarments stained. Vivid reminder of the hurt that came from hubris.

Eric 'Bubba' Alder said...

My take on religion is that, like most things in life, it is best taken in moderation.

I'm a stone-cold agnostic. I can argue either side effectively, which is why I'm on the fence. I'm a doubter, no doubt, but ever hopeful that there's something more there than anyone here can know for sure.

The Solitary Walker said...

I think nowadays you would have written it differently. But this captures the raw woundedness, the visceral baroque pain and bloodiness of the whole thing. Which I identify with, but in a milder, Methodist kind of way. My God, Ruth, this sounds so Catholic - not Baptist! Don't be tentative. All good, and a fine, brave and quite wonderful post.

rosaria said...

Most adults, if they are true, will have conflicting feelings about the religion of their childhood. Some is painful, because when we question our parents' beliefs, we question their love too.

You captured the pain, the agony, the human struggle to get to the truth.

I struggled for many years too.
Now, in my late autumn days, I feel that I am just one person trying to make sense of life; everything else, is someone else's life.

Shari Sunday said...

I don't really understand your poem after only a first reading, but I feel the pain and the sense of betrayal. It seems that behind lofty ideals there always lurks disappointment and human frailty. I came to peace with religion through the 12 Step Program. I believe in a Higher Power and the power of prayer. I believe in the non-judgment that I learned in the program. I believe there is one truth but I don't have to define it to believe it. I guess I believe that all is as it should be (in the big picture) since that is the way it is. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to make things better. One old saying in the program is, "The only thing you need to know about Got is you ain't him." My beliefs have helped me and I respect yours since I know you are a good and thoughtful person. Love, Shari

LW said...

oh Ruth! here we go. many things to say.
first, the original true meaning of "church" is the called out
not the called in
and solitary is right, it sounds more catholic but they are the mother of the mess we now call religion. I was raised Catholic.
i have read the bible through, cover to cover, i think sixteen times. i have gone from church to church. i have moved my family in with zealots, and now my two children refuse to believe in God.
i have left it all, except my belief. that i hold.
had i stayed in what is now considered the church, i've no doubt that would be gone as well.
the church i find today, regardless the denomination, is the only people i know that kill their own wounded and call it good.
leave it to man, given time, to destroy a flower and praise the thorn.

The Bug said...

I am so bound by my childhood rituals. I changed denominations (moving away from prohibition to acceptance - mostly), but I can't stop going. Even when I completely don't buy the lingo anymore. There are two reasons: singing & people. If I could meet those needs outside of church (introvert that I am) then I would probably have no need to sit in those pews anymore.

You'll note that I don't mention God in all of this - God is irrelevant to church to me & that's why I'd stop going. What I believe about God doesn't really need a ritual.

missing moments said...

Brave of you Ruth to put this out there. I, myself, a no longer practicing Methodist, only enjoy churches from an architectural view. Organized religion is not my cup of tea.

Friko said...

On reading the poem just once I do not see a person who has moved away from spirituality but from the man-made and man-organised and man-run church.

This is a place I have long ago left too. For me it means that I have left something which wasn't worth joining in the first place; it also means that my search for spiritual nourishment has by no means come to an end.

I doubt that organised religion will provide an answer.

Nelson said...

Ruth, I will never see red again in the same way. Swords, thorns, bandages, lacerations, carcasses....

Effective images for what might be described as "bloody awful," I wonder....

Allison said...

Ruth: If I may, I think your "I" is what God gave you - the neverending quest for Beauty, as expressed through your beautiful poetry. This is the religiuos sense we all were born with. So many do not see the link between their own searching and God's calling out to us; I say this not to criticize but just to share that only now as I approach 50 do I find faith compelling because I see the link between my own life and God's design. (I am a practicing Catholic by the way and struggle always to not be encrusted by my preconceptions but instead to face Reality head on. I think all humans struggle with this, or should!)

Terresa said...

First off, I loved the poem. To think you wrote it in 1995? It reads (to me) as if it were written today.

I recently read a lengthy Anne Carson interview in The Paris Review. In case you're interested, here's the link:

In it, she addresses her religion, she is Catholic and says some very interesting things about being in the space that a church provides (whether or not or how one worships in that space can be personal, and on infinite levels, I knew that! But Carson helped me see it again).

Anyhow, I digress. But as I read Carson, I don't think of any religion at all behind her, in her, but there it is.

Also, I recently read Rodenbach's Bruges-La-Morte, which also sheds some fascinating thoughts on religion/spirituality.

Thanks for your boldness in sharing this poem. There's more to say on this, in future posts & poems...

Jen said...

I feel your pain & hear the secrets tucked away in your prior place of worship. I am not distant to the knowledge that church is not perfect...made up of imperfect people. I have faced my own storms of pain in one of my prior places of worship. Yet now I rejoice that God has used it to help me discern truth from deception, and the difference between Pharisaical, legalistic, religious organizations erected by and for man and the true church (people having intimate, relationship with The Maker of all man)...whom without I would be a tragedy.

A time of church purification is mentioned in Revelations & I believe it is exactly what is happening in this last hour. The word says in the last days...because of Apostate Churches (wayward churches)...many would loose faith and the love of many would grow cold. I encourage you to keep the faith my sister.

Christ is coming back for His church...not the stained, hidden garments left over from the sins of man...but for a beautiful bride dressed in white!

May He heal you, guide you, & direct you to His heart for others, His Bride, & His deep love for you.

~ Jen

Margaret said...

...a sifter of days

So many thoughts swirling around in my head. The church, organized and unorganized, is made up of sinners. All we can do is each of us continue to search for life's essense, it's meaning. I honestly feel I have more unanswered questions the older I get about the subject of faith/religion/church... I've been on summer blog break and still am really for a couple more weeks. I've missed it, but the kids have kept me too busy. I'm glad I stopped by today...I will be pondering this poem for a few days.

Ruth said...

Hedge, yes, that's how I see it too. In its best state, religion is a human construct for reaching deeper into the well. When it veers from its best state, it reaches out to control its followers.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Maureen. Your words from your poem 'Church' reflect the same thought of it being only a construct, a vehicle as Hedgewitch put it, to find comfort or meaning. We don't need it, but it took years of intense and willful liberation for me to believe I would not go to hell if I stopped going to church.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Mary. Much harm has been done in the name of church and Christ, and in the place of the Lord. It pains me. Yet I know there is great good in and from it too. We still have a ways to go for some to acknowledge the hurt and claim it for what it is.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Eric. Your fence describes me too, though I don't spend much time even contemplating the truth or untruth of any religion now. Perhaps that's true for you too.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Robert. I've been thinking about what you said, that I would write this differently now. It's true. I am in such a place of peace now. But then, my whole world, everything that had been woven into the fabric of my being was in question, and violently.

Yes, funny isn't it, the Catholic bits. This was true through these poems of my outgoing. The forms of Catholicism are poetic and representative, even if we did not have wine in our church. I think with that too I would be more specifically Baptist now if I wrote this poem. But as you say, I would not write this poem now.

Thanks a bunch for your encouragement.

Ruth said...

Rosaria, thank you for what you stated so well, and in parallel with my own feelings.

You nailed it about the love. Being in a preacher's home, I became convinced that the church was more important than I was, than all of us children were. That's not something easily undone in the psyche.

Ruth said...

Shari, thanks so much for your reflections here. At the time of the poem, I was deeply bitter about what had been forced upon me my whole life up to that point. After becoming an adult, I could have extricated myself from what did not fit, but it took until my parents passed away to do it. And a LOT of discussions. The poem represents the violence of my distaste for what I felt was a war against me. Who was the self inside me? It was someone who had to die. No feelings acknowledged.

I'm glad the 12 steps was helpful to you. And I appreciate your respect so very much, as I respect you and your beliefs too. Please understand then, when I say, out of a quiet attitude of respect, that I disagree with the old saying you quoted. Through all this struggle and journey, I can honestly and with my whole being say that it is the exact thing I have come to disbelieve. I can no longer think of God as Other. Out there. You ain't him. That goes against every fiber of my being. Am I saying I am God? No. But something like, God is here, within.

I appreciate you very much.

Ruth said...

LW-Rick, thanks for your response to this quite personal post. I hear so much in your few lines, so much. There must have been powerful upheavals and thoughts, doubts and questions. How is it that religion/Christianity has managed to create so much pain out of this flower? Oh your last line is so perfect. Well I think you get right at it. We are human, and so the human element is what has ruined it for many of us. As you say, staying in the church might have ruined your faith. For me, it was a rich place for me to be shaped, and I'm grateful for the heritage of it in many ways. But it took a lot of help from mentors to understand its worth after fleeing.

Ruth said...

Dana, thanks very much for your candid response. I love that you pulled away from a church of prohibition and found one with acceptance! We did that too, and it made a world of difference. I also understand the social need and fulfillment of church. And the songs! I have mixed feelings about singing, because I had to sing in the choir, though I would have enjoyed listening only. But even now, I find hymns and choruses popping into my head, and I sing them. Some of the old hymns are the most beautiful to me, like Isaac Watts'.

Yes, God is not contained in church. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Reena. Brave or foolish, I'm not sure which. But something in me needed to speak this post, for whatever reason. I appreciate your response.

When I studied abroad in 1975, one of the best things about traveling in 10 European countries and Israel was visiting churches, chapels, cathedrals and temples. It's mind boggling what they were able to do before our modern tools and technologies to create such lofty beauty.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Friko. I appreciate what you see in the poem, which is quite true. I have not moved away from spirituality. At the time of the poem even, that was true, though I felt violently opposed to church. At the point of this poem, I did not know I would find the spirituality I sought, but I hoped I would.

Perhaps unlike you, I do feel there was a lot of good I received from church. Even the ways it tore at my spirit were probably good for me in making me who I am. In some ways, outside of this story of this religion in my life, I feel I have had little struggle. I think struggle is powerfully important for making a human being both strong and tender.

Ruth said...

Nelson, what color is y/our pain?

Interestingly, I just connected the film 'The English Patient' with this poem. I had to look up the year just now to see if perhaps I had seen it before writing this. But no, it was made in 1996. I picture that old church where Hana took him as something like what was in my mind in the writing of this, and the war that tore Europe apart as a picture of how church tore me apart.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Allison. I appreciate your comment, it contains powerful insight. God gave me my "I". I'd say that is it in a nutshell, precisely. "Death to self" was the mantra I heard growing up. The problem was, I never heard anything positive about self. Who was this self I had? Nothing and no one. You can't raise a child with confidence or self respect if you don't acknowledge, honor and value their selfhood.

Ruth said...

Terresa, thank you very much for reading, and for loving the poem. Thank you for your time here. I needed your encouragement when it came.

The interview with Carson is immense, as is she, and her work. Her personal mythology is fascinating, and even though she is reticent to share much personal information (or had been, perhaps until this interview), as you say, there is always personal history that makes up a person, and we can't possibly know all that it is, unless it is very evident in their work.

I would like to do something like she did with Book of Isaiah and pull out the church stories more into my work. I did this early quite a lot and haven't done it so much lately. Maybe the church has lost the power for me that it had. But it is still there, in my story, in the fibers of my cloth.

Ruth said...

Jen, thank you for your heartfelt response to my post and poem. I really appreciate the kindness and love you've expressed. I'm sorry for the pain you've experienced, yet I am glad for it too, if it brought you knowledge and understanding, which my own has done for me. When you bump up against a wall, and you can climb over it, around it or find a way through it, you do get stronger.

Thanks for your blessing and wishes.

Ruth said...

Margaret, thanks so much. I always appreciate your openness.

If my parents had understood how to nurture us as you do Will and your other kids, we would not have felt that church was more important than we were. This is the root of the pain I felt. Was it sin on their part? It was lack of understanding, lack of tools, lack of knowledge. I don't blame them now. I'm also grateful for the struggle, very grateful.

erin said...

there is so much in the poem that is startling, revelation in metaphor, that i can't help but love it. the window as sifter of days, the light not gracing but cutting. all of it ruth! i am excited by it, by the daringness of it, the personal truth of it. and this is what i would like to say, the personal truth of it. when we speak of religion we must realize it is only ever the personal truth of it. and so how can any of us offend the other without intention? each of our journeys is so unique and indepedent. if we recognize just this then there is nothing else to argue, only our personal mythologies to explain.

you use the word beneath to describe where you are headed. beneath, beside, over, that which comes from deep inside. this is one of my fundamental rejections of religion, that the shroud is too often adopted and too many forget to look to see what beats beneath, beyond the shroud. here lies a bloody heart, a naked cunt, an erection, the hands of man. religion too often asks for us to separate our humanness from our spiritual selves. and so it is that i can not abide (personally) any religion that does not recongnize this body state that we live within. the purity does not necessarily allow for the meat of us. that is not to say i know of all religions. and that is not to say that some religions are not more liberal than others. but i do not have the fundamental belief of the bible or any other book. rather, i have the belief that the bible, the Koran, every religious text perhaps, speaks a thread of truth (as poetry does) from its very personal cultural and societal place. it is a voice adopted. for me, i need my voice to open up, break apart, and speak for itself of what grows there.

i could go on and on and swallow your response like food and go on and on again changed. but enough of me.

i never understood not talking about religion, politics or money. these things are a part of the underpinning of being human. and sex and body, of course. and dreams. and desires. ya, i was often the end of conversation at parties, and sometimes the beginning.


Susan said...

Having religion and church forced on one has caused many a good person to leave it behind when they are finally able to sort out their feelings. I'm not sure I have mine completely sorted, but I do know I have no desire to ever attend church again, except for weddings and funerals.

I don't know if I'm a spiritual person. I can be a very emotional person, and those whom I love, I love with all my heart. I've lived through hell on earth, so it's hard for me to believe there could be anything much worse (of course, there is always worse). My joys (and my heaven) are my grandchildren, the closeness of old and new friendships, and the beauty and wonder of nature.

The crimes that have been perpetrated in the name of religion are as old as religion itself. On the other hand, much good has also been done, but who's to say that the good things wouldn't have been done anyway by good people?

Your journey was more painful than mine, it seems. I was never involved wholeheartedly, nor did I feel a spiritual connection to God, at least not in the way the church proscribes. I'm not sure what I believe.

Shari Sunday said...

Ruth, actually I agree with you completely. I feel my connection with God comes from the inside of me and everything in the universe. The old saying from the 12 Step Program has to do with recognizing that there is a higher power than yourself and your self will. Sorry to get into that whole thing.

Deslilas said...

A link about a simple song about the same question by Alain Souchon

Deslilas said...

Alain Souchon

Et Si En Plus Y'a Personne

Abderhamane, Martin, David
Et si le ciel était vide
Tant de processions, tant de têtes inclinées
Tant de capuchons tant de peur souhaitées
Tant de démagogues de Temples de Synagogues
Tant de mains pressées, de prières empressées

Tant d'angélus
Qui résonne
Et si en plus
Y'a personne

Abderhamane, Martin, David
Et si le ciel était vide
Il y a tant de torpeurs
De musiques antalgiques
Tant d'anti-douleurs dans ces jolis cantiques
Il y a tant de questions et tant de mystères
Tant de compassions et tant de révolvers

Tant d'angélus
Qui résonne
Et si en plus
Y'a personne

Arour hachem, Inch Allah
Are Krishhna, Alléluia

Abderhamane, Martin, David
Et si le ciel était vide
Si toutes les balles traçantes
Toutes les armes de poing
Toutes les femmes ignorantes
Ces enfants orphelins
Si ces vies qui chavirent
Ces yeux mouillés
Ce n'était que le vieux plaisir
De zigouiller

Et l'angélus
Qui résonne
Et si en plus
Y'a personne

Et l'angélus
Qui résonne
Et si en plus
Y'a personne

George said...

Meister Eckhart reminds us that one must be willing to break the shell if one is to discover the kernel. Like many of us, you seem to have spent many years breaking the shells, often with the trauma the naturally flows from breaking anything. The question remains, however, about the elusive kernel. Have you found it? Had glimpses of it? Had it affirm that the breaking of shells was necessary for its presence to emerge? Big questions, Ruth, but not too big for your adventurous pen and questing heart. I, for one, welcome your thoughts, ideas, and experiences on this topic — indeed, any topic.

Babs-beetle said...

Ruth, you already know that we have left the church. We do miss the social aspect of it, but that isn't reason enough to continue going. We couldn't continue with something that felt wrong for us.

I could talk for an age on why, because I'm not brilliant with words like you, who can say so much in so few words :)

Allison said...

Oh Ruth - death to self? NO. That is nihilism, dualism. Yikes.

Here is how I am understanding it now. God, with infinite immeasurable love, chose to create me from nothingness. Leaned down and created me!

My "I" is called to search to see and experience God immbedded in Reality. My longing for Beauty, my passions, the people sent for me to love, even the people sent to irritate, anger me, all of it is part of my "I" and my journey is always toward Beauty, and my destiny will be with that Beauty and then, only then will I be truly fulfilled.

(I am reading and following the work of Luigi Giussani, who wrote "The Religous Sense" and other books of theology and spirituality.)

Sandy said...

It's been way too long since I've stopped by and I see it was a good time to do that. what i feel from your poem, it could be my own perceptions - I feel ages of guilt heaped upon our souls, I feel hypocrisy lovingly and unknowingly passed down from our parents to us....I feel the loss of innocent love and the replacement of that love with conditional judgemental love.

Anyway, that's what I feel when reading your poem - the injurious judgements of clergy who instead of thinking for themselves and questioning, simply passed dogma down to the people...

I'm probably wrong in what you meant, but that is how i feel and see it some times...

I've missed coming here - it's been so darn busy..

we are moving soon.

Vagabonde said...

I have read your poem carefully. At the time you wrote it you were hurting it seems to me, and very mad too. I read all the comments also. It looks like many others have had problems with religion.

As you may know by now I never had to leave the church as I was not brought up in it and did not know any friends who were, none of my friends from kindergarten to university went to any type of church or temple, even one of my best friends who was supposed to be from a Jewish family never went to a synagogue. People don’t realize that Bastille Day in France was also to get rid of many problems with the clergy and the church in France. We are the most secular country in Europe, and proud of it. I have read on several other blogs, by French people in the US and Canada, that they miss speaking about religion and politics like we do in France – it is not taboo like it is here, we enjoy arguing about it - although we enjoy more talking about politics than religion. While watching the Tour de France today I was telling someone that all the little towns in France have one church, but what people don’t know is that many of these churches don’t have a priest in them as not enough people go to church – a priest will support 4 or 5 churches, going to each once in 4 to 6 weeks (6% attendance in France against 65+% in the US.) I think that forcing wee children to believe in a religion is abuse of the worst kind, their mind are not formed enough to comprehend this – they should be told when they are much older and can decide for themselves. Maybe in the future this will be done.
I found that adults whose families were super religious (in the US) have many psychological scars which are very hard to heal. I would think that it must be very difficult to be healthy and happy after having been brainwashed as a child. How much pain this must bring. You are a courageous person.

Amy@Souldipper said...

Ruth, I wonder if you have breathed easier seeing the variety and maturity of the comments. I gave church my serious attention for years. I studied the Bible through a University correspondence course in Theology (approved by the Anglican Church). I wanted to uncover and assimilate the facts for myself. It was a good exercise in freedom.

In summary, the spiritual path is now an inner journey for me. It's fed from many sources, but my inner guide is the rudder. Spirituality is the wind that fills the sails I unfurl. It's co-creation at its finest. I like the responsibility of working with the Unseen. Its demonstrations of presence put me in awe. It's so much more than I could have imagined. So I don't try.

After reading that, however, I realize I just tried. When will I learn?

Ruth said...

erin. It is beautiful to be received by your welcoming arms here, and to welcome you the same. It almost seems impossible now that there were people in my life who were not open the way I find them here in this place. Perhaps you more than anyone have been teaching me what it is to be free with language, with perception and conception. My own social bounds and bonds will probably never stop constraining me in certain ways here in these expressions. In my anger and frustration sixteen years ago, much exploded and I didn't care about any of that. But I agree with you 100% that any religion that does not recognize our whole being is not one I want. I wonder why people needed to construct religion so tightly. Can it be any reason other than control?

Well, it would be so lovely to go on and on with you. And so we will, so we will. It's a privilege that I feel deeply and keenly.

Ruth said...

Oh Susie, we have talked about these things, and I've seen how church in your life brought things that pushed you away from it. What a shame it is that a place that should be a fold of welcome was for too many of us a cell of misery. What you have with your family, and the selfless love you pour on them, is a beautiful institution. Are you a spiritual person? Knowing you as I do, I can say without a doubt, yes. Anyone who loves as you do, enjoys music and art as you do, and blesses the world as you do, is spiritual. Can I prove it? Nah.

Love you.

Ruth said...

Shari, oh no need to apologize! It was good to reflect on it, actually. Like you, I feel my connection spiritually inside, connected with what is outside. Like Rilke when he says, "we are bees of the invisible" I feel my work is to find what is in everything that makes it holy. And when I find myself in misery for whatever reason, the strength I seek is inside. Thanks for coming back and clarifying. But again, no need for an apology. I appreciate your viewpoint, always.

Ruth said...

Merci, Daniel. I struggle a bit with the translation (with the help of an online translator), but I think I get the idea of this song. There is so, so much in this stuff we call religion, so much good, and so much bad. Can anyone decipher it?

If you come back, perhaps you can open it just a bit for me in English. I wish I understood French. So sorry. Et merci.

Ruth said...

George. In a moment you gave me the image of a life.

My answer: questions: Do you think I have, do you see glimpses here?

Thank you for your ever-ready heart.

Ruth said...

Babs, it's painful, this loss for you and Mo. It continues to be painful, even when you don't go. But less so if you don't.

I need to get over there one day so we can sit down and have a proper conversation over tea!

Ruth said...

Allison, your journey with Beauty is much like my own. Would I have loved to have this from the first steps of childhood? Oh god yes. It wasn't my story, but what I feel now is making up for it, I think.

Thank you for returning and continuing, it means a lot. Thanks for the reference about Giussani, I'll check him out.

Ruth said...

Sandy! So good to see you. I saw pictures of your move on Google Reader and have planned to visit you at your blog this weekend to see what that's all about. Big changes, wow.

You are not off the mark with your take on my poem. There is the bigger picture of control by guilt. And there is the intensely personal experience of a young girl whose feelings were intense, but thwarted. I have had a long and arduous road toward freedom. I am still in process. But how I feel today is miles from that, maybe continents.

I look forward to catching up on your doings and movings soon. All the best!

Ruth said...

Vagabonde, you're right, I was spitting mad.

Like you, I longed for open discussion. My whole life! If I raised a question in response to something I'd heard in church, I was quickly given 'the right answer.' If that doesn't make sense to a person, in time, they will either rebel or stop asking, stop questioning. I saw or read about Jews who could sit and discuss, argue, welcome open debate, and I was amazed! How I wanted that. There was no such thing in my churches.

Now as we prepare to welcome a grandchild into our family, questions arise about religion. Do we expose her/him to many? What is the answer? As we discuss this, the important thing is to keep an open mind.

I am convinced that we are spiritual beings. Because of this I want our grandchild to hear about that. We are whole beings with bodies, emotions, spirits, minds — or so I believe.

I also want to say that I don't believe it is our duty to create a life or environment for our child that precludes struggle or pain. Of course we couldn't even if we tried. But I wouldn't want to try, because I'm certain that struggle is essential for understanding.

Thank you for your efforts and energy reading and reflected here, so much.

Ruth said...

Amy, thank you very much for your good visit. Yes, I have breathed easier, thank you for asking. That you studied the Bible in an atmosphere of freedom is the salient point here. Anything we turn our attention to, if it is done freely, openly, there is deep wonder and grace, the essence of things rises to the surface where we can finger it, play with it, take it seriously and laugh at it. When we believe something is absolute, and disbelief or variance is unthinkable, it is death.

I love how you summarized your spiritual path. I understand, I think, what you felt after "trying" to express the vastness of your spiritual journey. It's the finger pointing at the moon. We can be still, and just feel it, see it. But somehow we also want to express it, share it with one another. I guess as long as we know that our expressions are only fingers pointing at the moon, and not the moon itself, we'll keep getting glimpses into this great light.

Louise Gallagher said...

When I was a little girl, steeped in Catholic 'mythology' I used to ask my parents, where does God live during the week.

He was in church every Sunday -- but what about the rest of the week?

And why did people go to church on Sunday, confess their sins and then go off and resin the rest of the week?


Like you, my questions were never answered in a way I could grasp, or understand, or make sense of.

And so I searched.

Today, I know I believe in a spiritual essence that connects each and every one of us. I believe in the miracle of each of us.

And I believe in our capacity to surrender fear and fall In Love.

and the rest... for me is just what man, and woman, have written, created, constructed to make sense of a world we often can't make sense of. And some of it is constructed by man to control, limit, to protect what 'man' fears.

thank you for your courage, and your beauty. In your sharing, I stretch myself into that place where I am free to express my spiritual beliefs without fearing ridicule.

One of the first times I 'met' you you wrote of kindred spirits. My spirit recognizes the beauty of your spirit shining bright.

Thank you my brave spirited friend. You are awesome!

Ruth said...

Louise, I won't forget when I first came upon you and "Recover your Joy," because I felt such a kinship with you, because of our churchy backgrounds and resilient spirituality.

Truly, what you do every day in your work is to recognize, acknowledge and honor the spirit in people whose way has become tattered and worn. When I "met" Terry and felt I'd been introduced to a man of royal blood, so fine in spirit he was, and was drawn into your heart, I knew you had found that something that is deeper than religion, what connects us with all Life. You take the time and live your life energetically for these uncommon people who have found themselves on hard times. I admire you more than I can say.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...


Arti said...

Ruth, after so many commenters have put down their precious thoughts, I have no more wiser words to say. But this notion lingers in my mind, and I'd just like to share it with you: "Don't stop searching." None of us has "arrived" yet, or can claim "we've made it". For what is man but a speck of dust in this vast universe. What you've shed is a shell, a form. It's the essence and substance that render meaning and give life. In this great journey of life, we're in it together. The amazing world of blogging makes us aware of our fellow travellers. Let's just walk on together, sharing our discoveries, our joys, our doubts. I believe a sincere heart and a searching attitude can lead us closer to the Source of truth, beauty, and life. And I believe that Source can heal all wounds. I'm deeply moved by your sincerity and candid sharing. Thank you for allowing me to walk together with you.

rauf said...

Ruth, There is a beautiful Church in Kothamangalam Kerala. I just go there and sit. just sit. No chairs or benches there ( PEW ? ) you have to sit on the floor. and i light a candle too.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Anonymous!

Ruth said...

Arti, thanks so much.

I appreciate your comment, for its openness. It also causes me to reflect on the post and my responses to comments, about searching. That is good for me to think about. Have I stopped searching? I'm fascinated by this question.

In some way, I have stopped searching, striving. The process of leaving the church was very long, very difficult, and by the end I was hanging on by a thread, to God. And truthfully, I told him he'd have to find me where I was sitting in the wilderness. I was done seeking, searching and striving. In some very powerful way, it was over.

Then Inge got cancer, and she and I began an intense two year journey of seeking and searching for spiritual teaching. When it leveled out, and we were no longer reading everything we could devour, I felt peace. To say I am no longer searching or seeking would be to misrepresent it. I am no longer striving. I am always open to the truth that anyone and anything can teach me. I want to wake up every morning like a baby with new eyes and ears, new senses. I don't often succeed, and I stay confined to habits of thought. But that is my wish, the direction I'm facing.

I appreciate you so very much. I love sharing this walk with you.

Ruth said...

rauf, that is precious. I hold it inside me like a lit candle, on the bare floor of me.

You know one of my favorite churches for just sitting, watching the shadows, was St. Patrick's in Dublin, where Jonathan Swift was Dean. I really felt connected with him there. Poor man, he was quite misunderstood, and he had such a good heart. It was a simple church in some ways, no gold, just wood chairs and lovely patterns marqueted into the floor. I looked down a lot. What did I learn from the floor, rauf? I learned that in contrast we learn our values. Light and dark, light and shadow. There is no one way, or another. Just the time I learn one thing, its opposite is sure to follow.

Mark Kerstetter said...

Your eyes are open. Although to the religious this sounds like sacrilege, I describe this as seeing with the eyes of god. Your poem (your outstanding poem) reminded me of these words from Jean Genet's novel "Our Lady of the Flowers":

"Facing the faithful, the altar is neatly arranged; facing God, it is a jumble of wood in the dust and spider webs."

Ruth said...

Mark, thank you for the words of Jean Genet's, which do mysteriously combine your first description of open eyes seeing with the eyes of god, and my poem's perspective. It is beautiful, and it gives me a very odd (though lofty somehow) feeling to put myself in god's place, and not in the seat of the faithful. Funny how poetry shines new shafts of light.

Ginnie said...

Astrid and I watched "Yentl" again the other night in its DVD version. I marvelled at how the Yeshiva students were allowed to argue ad nauseum about all their holy scriptures. Of course, I especially marvelled that Yentl got away with being Anchel in order to study and argue like the boys/men!

I wonder what the religious world would have looked like for us growing up if women were in the pulpits as much as men. If Mom had been our pastor and not Dad. I wonder about so many things....

Stratoz said...

thanks for sharing, and yes, a conversation would be nice. After 17 years away from a church, I stumbled back in and met one of the wisest and compassionate men I have ever known. I was lucky. I was blessed.

Ruth said...

Boots, two excellent points you make. I agree completely with your admiration for Jewish communities, for their openness to argumentation. They might be opinionated, but that does not preclude differing opinions within the same faith!

Women in the pulpit? Yes, some might have quite a different perspective from the men. I'll leave it at that. ;-)

Ruth said...

Stratoz, in a way, from my own point of view, I'm amazed you went back to church (I like how you say you 'stumbled' back :). I am truly glad for you, that you found wise and compassionate friends. Truly! What a gift.

julie king said...

you are such a gifted poet, ruth. your words moved me and brought tears to my eyes. so many memories of my early church-going years flooded my mind. wandering the great outdoors on an early sunday morning with my nikon is my church these days. i find the solitude and creative inspiration to be better than nay real or imagined religious experience.

Anonymous said...

i see it clearly here, the many events that has transpired in that church's life is as the same as the history of revolution when a nation is just starting to understand how to exist. generations upon generations of man are looking through those windows seeking comfort from faith and believing peace is near. peace is near. i admire your ability to paint the scenes with your words, your verses-how vivid they are and i celebrate a moment of solitude like this. thank you.

Anonymous said...

i see it clearly here, the many events that has transpired in that church's life is as the same as the history of revolution when a nation is just starting to understand how to exist. generations upon generations of man are looking through those windows seeking comfort from faith and believing peace is near. peace is near. i admire your ability to paint the scenes with your words, your verses-how vivid they are and i celebrate a moment of solitude like this. thank you.

Margaret Almon said...

Thank you for sharing this poem. The line "a house with wounded furnishings" stays with me. At one point, when I was giving poetry readings around 1995 as well, I had someone ask me about all the Biblical imagery and theology in my poems, and I remember being surprised at how my struggle with church resided in my poems.