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,
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,
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 sifter of days.