Poetry in the hands of a saint. And mine.

st-denis-holding-his-head-e1419180195836

“You’re not a monster,” the song in my headphones said. And I cried, strangely heartbroken by happiness, because for once the words seemed true.

Why does happiness do that?

I covered my face with my hands, hands that I’d used to cut the scars on my arm and across my neck. Hands that had just finished a poem instead. A real poem. Vivid with everything unsaid, everything fully mine. I have not written a real poem since before the scars, and however much I healed it has seemed that poetry left my voice. That all of it was register I could no longer reach. And my own book, published with poems of mine in each chapter, stared at me like a mirror with eyes I no longer knew.

I felt like I’d been in a horrible car wreck – a car wreck called life – and I could still walk but I’d been badly disfigured.

I had the good grace to whine about it a lot.

So I occasionally tried a poem. Really the only one that worked was a bilingual mimic of and response to Charles Baudelaire. (Because why be normal, I guess? Shut up, I love French poetry in French.) Clever, sure, but mostly carried by Baudelaire. It wasn’t quite a poem, not really, though it was closer. I could perhaps continue on as a translator. (Which I also love. Shut up.)

And then.

I was playing a video game. (Shut up.) It is called Assassin’s Creed: Unity, and I played it because I got it for free and because I really like its historical settings. My little guy and I ran around 18th century revolutionary Paris – recreated at a massive 1:1 ratio! – and I was enamored of reading about each landmark and then looking up more. F*ck the plot; it’s Assassin’s Creed, so it’ll just be weird and confusing anyway. I won and I assassinated a lot of people. The end.

My little guy and I also ran around Saint-Denis, Paris. It is a real town, and I was struck by its devastated basilica. The tombs and the rumors about the ghosts of kings. So I read about it: the basilica was where the French kings had been buried, extending as far back as the 6th century. It was a famous church, renovated as it was by Abbot Suger (of the attached monastery), and it is considered the first gothic church.

I couldn’t stop imagining it. This resplendent church with centuries of kings underneath, wrecked during the French Revolution. At two different points in 1793, the kings and their families were dug out of their tombs and thrown into a mass grave. They were covered with quicklime to secure and speed their disintegration, and their riches were robbed and sold. What survives now does so because of an insightful museum curator. The French call these events La profanation des tombes royales de la basilique Saint-Denis.

The profanation. The desecration.

Emptying the very earth of history, unburying the dead: what anger that took, and what agony. So much destroyed forever. As if being rid of the bones would somehow rid France of its royal past. As if time itself could be dug up from its roots.

Is this how tradition dies? Is it murdered? Is this what I watch, helpless, on my own campus?

Then I read about Saint Denis himself, whose relics are still there. He is the patron of Paris, and he was bishop there in the third century, when all was still under the Roman Empire. Denis was beheaded during a persecution of Christians, and it is said that his body took his head and carried it all the way to where Saint-Denis is now, preaching repentance the whole way before he came to die.

My first reaction to the hagiography was, “That. Happened.”  Something child-like and defiant in me somehow refuses to die. I frequently sass students about these miracles by saying, “Prove it didn’t happen.” Just to push. Twist my arm and I’d say it’s more likely that an alternate tradition claiming Denis was thrown in the Seine is probably more accurate. Probably. But hagiography isn’t history, and there is something in them that needs to be trusted or else the saint vanishes away. Denis carried his damn head because that’s important somehow.

All these bones and decapitations looked like a poem to me. I don’t know why. They just did: a poem was in there if I could manage to put it together. I was so excited. I had found a poem.

So then. I won’t explain the poem, which is below. I also won’t describe the drastic editing. I think both destroy the chance to be a reader. But I’ll list a couple of details:

  • I liked making Saint Denis’s head on fire.
  • I read that Saint Denis was confused with Dionysius the Areopagite (aka “Pseudo-Dionysius”) in the Middle Ages. They were considered the same person – both Denis! So I deliberately borrowed images from Dionysius.
  • I directly quote GM Hopkins somewhere in there, if you can find it.

I wrote a f*cking poem. A real one. I don’t know everything it means, but I don’t have to know. I could cry, because I at least know it means that I am not only scars. And dying doesn’t mean staying dead.

Saint Denis, 1793

Saint Paul died like this, head cut clean off.
But he didn’t get up and walk as I do,
rising over the bloody sword at my feet,
head held in my hands as I move through

the brilliant dark. My eyes burn with holy fire,
and I am living and I am dead, head held
at my heart. I am both and I am neither,
body of a church that bears the head

leading on. I am dusk and I am dawn;
like a lantern I see on to where
God bids me to live and to die. I am drawn
where God bids my bones be crucified.

The church grows around me like a stone tree,
and in her cool shadows she collects
the royal dead. She gathers gold and silver
and with them she bends herself to elegance.

Everything pulls the eyes upward,
all glittering. Archways twine together
in the warm blood of the setting sun.
As under the carved limbs all gazes are set down

to the stone and marble that stares back at them.
The sightless eyes of the semblanced dead
that watch as they are all unhoused
of the figures they were shaped to vigil over.

There will be no kings for the people now.
There will be no bones. Throw them down
together to the dark. They with their empty eyes
and silent jaws, unable to object as they are buried

in a shower of powdered fire.
They lived once and they died,
and now their likenesses are the choir
present for a second death, which is to forget.

Now there is nothing behind these gathered stone eyes.
And my hollow gaze is fiery dark,
solitary witness to death and to life,
likeness of living one as slain.

God bids me up; Lord of living and dead.
God who makes from chaos and void.
And God bids me rise again in death,
for he has made even an empty tomb his sign.

(c) Anne M. Carpenter

“It is not enough.” From Charles Péguy, from Pope Francis

Pope Francis touches statue of Mary during service to conclude Marian month

Every time I read something from Pope Francis – from Francis himself – I think of this section of this poem by Charles Péguy:

As the faithful pass the holy water from hand to hand,
So we faithful, we must pass the word of God from heart to heart.
From hand to hand, from heart to heart, we must pass the divine Hope.

It is not enough that we have been created, that we were born, that we were brought into the faithful.
We must, it depends on us as women and as faithful,
It depends on us as Christians
To make it so that the eternal lacks nothing of the temporal,
(Strange reversal),
That the spiritual lacks nothing of the carnal,
It must be said, it’s incredible: that eternity lacks nothing of time,
Of all time, of any particular time,
That the spirit lacks nothing of the flesh.
That the soul so to speak lacks nothing of the body.
That Jesus lacks nothing of the Church,
Of his Church.
We must go all the way: That God lacks nothing of his creation.

In other words it depends on us
To make it so that hope does not deceive the world.
That’s to say, it must be said, it depends on us
To make it so that the greater does not lack the lesser,
That the infinitely greater does not lack the infinitely lesser,
That the infinitely everything does not lack the infinitely nothing.

It depends on us to make it so that the infinite does not lack the finite.
That the perfect does not lack the imperfect.
It’s a wager, we are needed, it depends on us
To make it so that the great does not lack the small,
That the whole does not lack the part,
That the infinitely great does not lack the infinitely small.
That the eternal does not lack the perishable.

We are needed, (it’s ridiculous), we are needed so that the Creator
Does not lack his creature.

And as on the last day there will be a great sign of the cross over the world’s coffin.
Because it will be the final burial.
So on the last day there will be a great sign of the cross as a blessing.
Because it will be the fulfillment,
The crowning of hope.

Special grace, that a weakling, a weak creature carries God.
And that God could be in need of this creature.
It could be missing from his count and from his census,
When he counts his sheep, missing from his love and from his very being,
Making his hope to be a liar.

Because there is the crowning of thorns but there is also the crowning of hope.

Which is the crowning with branches from a tree without thorns.

Jesus Christ, my child, did not come to tell us tales.

from Charles Péguy, “Portal of the Mystery of Hope”

A dialogue with Baudelaire’s sick muse

Alas, poor Muse, what ails you so today?
Your hollow eyes with midnight visions burn

Beatrice, you don’t seem quite like yourself right now.
Though I suppose you never were.
And what are you today? Your face has split itself somehow.
Poor muse, ma pauvre muse, pure
ecstatic measure of desire, what are you ce matin?
Already I can feel you cleave – carving and cohering.
Tes yeux, what has happened to them? – the light’s all gone,
ma pauvre muse, your eyes: what are they reflecting?

And turn about, in your complexion play
Madness and horror, cold and taciturn.

Everything in you is twinned with visions nocturnes.
I can hardly trust the yeux I see are yours.
My heart stutters before your face, so fierce and stern –
and does madness twice flicker there? La folie et l’horreur?
Silent guardian, or secret dream, name for nameless things:
gather your countenance once more. Je voudrais – I want – I –
I never know how to want, and now you sever my yearning.
You who used to draw my quiet ache into your eyes.

Green succubus and rosy imp — have they
Poured you both fear and love into one glass?

T’ont-ils versé la peur et l’amour de leurs urnes?
These terrible gazes of yours: fear and love
pour the many visions into one. And I yearn
to see you as I once did, when you were whole enough
to hold the unspoken hope qu’exhalant l’odeur
of sweeter things. Plural desires pent up in my lungs,
t’ont-ils versé as I exhale – all unsaid, all undared.
And there you were, fusing the fiction of my tongue.

Or with his tyrant fist the nightmare, say,
Submerged you in some fabulous morass?

Your face has broken, ma pauvre, and tes yeux creux
all emptied of desire. My pauvre muse, your face réfléchis
my fears twice over, plays each staggered view
back to me. Reflexive patterns of thwarted need –
la peur et l’amour cannot hold you anymore.
Or you can’t hold them. Or both are true.
Je voudrais that you be as you were before –
but you never were, Beatrice, were you?

Excerpts from Charles Baudelaire’s ‘The Sick Muse’ (‘La muse malade’), from Fleurs du mal.
Translation of Baudelaire from Roy Campbell.
Stanzas mine.

“Assumpta Maria” by Francis Thompson

“Coroação da Virgem,” Domingos António de Sequeira

Thou needst not sing new songs, but say the old.’—Cowley.

Mortals, that behold a Woman,
Rising ’twixt the Moon and Sun;
Who am I the heavens assume? an
All am I, and I am one.

Multitudinous ascend I,
Dreadful as a battle arrayed,
For I bear you whither tend I;
Ye are I: be undismayed!
I, the Ark that for the graven
Tables of the Law was made;
Man’s own heart was one, one Heaven,
Both within my womb were laid.
For there Anteros with Eros
Heaven with man conjoinèd was,—
Twin-stone of the Law, Ischyros,
Agios Athanatos.

I, the flesh-girt Paradises
Gardenered by the Adam new,
Daintied o’er with sweet devices
Which He loveth, for He grew.
I, the boundless strict savannah
Which God’s leaping feet go through;
I, the heaven whence the Manna,
Weary Israel, slid on you!
He the Anteros and Eros,
I the body, He the Cross;
He upbeareth me, Ischyros,
Agios Athanatos!

I am Daniel’s mystic Mountain,
Whence the mighty stone was rolled;
I am the four Rivers’ fountain,
Watering Paradise of old;
Cloud down-raining the Just One am,
Danae of the Shower of Gold;
I the Hostel of the Sun am;
He the Lamb, and I the Fold.
He the Anteros and Eros,
I the body, He the Cross;
He is fast to me, Ischyros,
Agios Athanatos!

I the presence-hall where Angels
Do enwheel their placèd King—
Even my thoughts which, without change else,
Cyclic burn and cyclic sing.
To the hollow of Heaven transplanted,
I a breathing Eden spring,
Where with venom all outpanted
Lies the slimed Curse shrivelling.
For the brazen Serpent clear on
That old fangèd knowledge shone;
I to Wisdom rise, Ischyron,
Agion Athanaton!

See in highest heaven pavilioned
Now the maiden Heaven rest,
The many-breasted sky out-millioned
By the splendours of her vest.
Lo, the Ark this holy tide is
The un-handmade Temple’s guest,
And the dark Egyptian bride is
Whitely to the Spouse-Heart prest!
He the Anteros and Eros,
Nail me to Thee, sweetest Cross!
He is fast to me, Ischyros,
Agios Athanatos!

‘Tell me, tell me, O Belovèd,
Where Thou dost in mid-day feed!
For my wanderings are reprovèd,
And my heart is salt with need.’
‘Thine own self not spellest God in,
Nor the lisping papyrus reed?
Follow where the flocks have trodden,
Follow where the shepherds lead.’
He, the Anteros and Eros,
Mounts me in Ægyptic car,
Twin-yoked; leading me, Ischyros,
Trembling to the untempted Far.

‘Make me chainlets, silvern, golden,
I that sow shall surely reap;
While as yet my Spouse is holden
Like a Lion in mountained sleep.’
‘Make her chainlets, silvern, golden,
She hath sown and she shall reap;
Look up to the mountains olden,
Whence help comes with lioned leap.’
By what gushed the bitter Spear on,
Pain, which sundered, maketh one;
Crucified to Him, Ischyron,
Agion Athanaton!

Then commanded and spake to me
He who framed all things that be;
And my Maker entered through me,
In my tent His rest took He.
Lo! He standeth, Spouse and Brother;
I to Him, and He to me,
Who upraised me where my mother
Fell, beneath the apple-tree.
Risen ’twixt Anteros and Eros,
Blood and Water, Moon and Sun,
He upbears me, He Ischyros,
I bear Him, the Athanaton!

Where is laid the Lord arisen?
In the light we walk in gloom;
Though the sun has burst his prison,
We know not his biding-room.
Tell us where the Lord sojourneth,
For we find an empty tomb.
‘Whence He sprung, there He returneth,
Mystic Sun,—the Virgin’s Womb.’
Hidden Sun, His beams so near us,
Cloud enpillared as He was
From of old, there He, Ischyros,
Waits our search, Athanatos.

Who will give Him me for brother,
Counted of my family,
Sucking the sweet breasts of my Mother?—
I His flesh, and mine is He;
To my Bread myself the bread is,
And my Wine doth drink me: see,
His left hand beneath my head is,
His right hand embraceth me!
Sweetest Anteros and Eros,
Lo, her arms He leans across;
Dead that we die not, stooped to rear us,
Thanatos Athanatos.

Who is She, in candid vesture,
Rushing up from out the brine?
Treading with resilient gesture
Air, and with that Cup divine?
She in us and we in her are,
Beating Godward: all that pine,
Lo, a wonder and a terror!
The Sun hath blushed the Sea to Wine!
He the Anteros and Eros,
She the Bride and Spirit; for
Now the days of promise near us,
And the Sea shall be no more.

Open wide thy gates, O Virgin,
That the King may enter thee!
At all gates the clangours gurge in,
God’s paludament lightens, see!
Camp of Angels!  Well we even
Of this thing may doubtful be,—
If thou art assumed to Heaven,
Or is Heaven assumed to thee!
Consummatum.  Christ the promised,
Thy maiden realm is won, O Strong!
Since to such sweet Kingdom comest,
Remember me, poor Thief of Song!

Cadent fails the stars along:—
Mortals, that behold a woman
Rising ’twixt the Moon and Sun;
Who am I the heavens assume? an
All am I, and I am one.

—-

Francis Thomspon

Posted on the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, August 15, 2015

“Stabat Mater” (poem)

la pieta

Did you mourn him, mother?
Did you cry?
When they took him down,
or after – borne away
by half a dozen hands.
Were your hands one of them?
Or could you not bear to touch?

Did you cling, or
did you stand apart –
silent, or
directing their touch –
hold his head that hangs
and hold his arms
and lift his feet that drag
and place a cloth over his cool face,
place a cloth: he used to like that
when he was small.

Did they have to wrest him from you,
gently,
wrest him from your arms
as they laid him down?
Or did you watch the silent descent,
gentle,
silent descent down to the cool stone,
wrapped white in the figure of a man
who was once your son.

And no longer.
The outline of a face
marked here and there with blood.
Once a face now covered over,
limp and seeping crimson
against white.
You saw a lamb like that once,
mauled by a wolf in the wild.

Did the apostle carry you home,
or did you carry him?
A dozen ashen faces staring
at you in the dusk.
Minus one.

Did they touch you,
perhaps for comfort – or their own?
Hands and fingers at your cloak:
what now, mother?
Now that your son is gone?

And you alone in your silent room:
Did you cry then, or was it too much?
A sob half-caught in your throat,
a howl seeping into darkness with a moan.
Did you fall to your knees, or
topple a chair –
rage the friend of ragged despair.
Head in your hands, and
tears flattened against palms,
shaking, or
absolutely still. Were you?
Absolutely wordless and absolutely
still?

What words anyway,
and what prayers?
A single phrase building
in your chest like burning sand,
choking away the sound:
prayer of the barren desert,
prayer hot and stretched to endless borders,
prayer of Rachel, who refuses to be comforted,
because her children are dead.

Did you mourn him, mother?
In the dark with a single candle,
soft orange tinting edges gold,
a devastated sanctuary
with unguarded doors.

Did you stand in the night, mother,
strained face guilded at shifting angles,
motionless yet taut?
Keeping watch.
Like long ago with the angel –
mother, what were you waiting for?

Anne M. Carpenter

N.B. – Originally posted June 17, 2014

“Interiority” (a poem…about Bernard Lonergan…somehow)

Once a long time ago, in a fit of rage at Bernard Lonergan – a Jesuit theologian and philosopher – and all scholars of Bernard Lonergan, I wrote a poem summarizing Bernard Lonergan’s thought. Because that’ll show ’em. It’s actually a sympathetic summary. I was keen to get it right. For…revenge purposes? Anyway, I’ve been looking through my old work, trying to remember what it was like to write, and I found that poem again. Here it is:

Interiority

Darkness greeted starlight,
enfolded in a single robe – and I
divested my eyes
of their crystalline inner seam
so that, self-seeing, I saw.

I met myself as through
a pale internal glass.
Like a galaxy I unfurled,
stretched to far unknowns, until,
self-knowing, I ceased to know myself.

With ruptured sight, I gazed
as through a torn inner veil.
And, self-sundered, I
escaped me through
the fissured self I knew.

In a darkened mirror of shattered
internal stars, I faced myself in
God’s uninterrupted sight,
exposed to the eternal gaze of rayless light.
And there, being known, I knew.

Anne M. Carpenter

Beauty, Writing. Illusioning and Disillusioning

“Untitled,” Zdislav Beksinski

Once I burned every story I had ever written. Literally. Then deleted the files. Or, I suppose I should begin in another place: I used to write stories. Then I burned them all. The act was at least partially inspired by G.M. Hopkins, who had burned his early poems on entering the Jesuit novitiate, and that was probably the only thing I liked about Hopkins at the time. What Hopkins and I shared – and I was much angrier about it than he – was a keen sense of beauty’s power to deceive. I had become aware, painfully aware, that my stories had become crutches, escapes – illusions. So I burned them away.

I also really enjoyed burning things and I was twenty-one or something, so I don’t put that past me as additional motivation. I wouldn’t even put that past me now.

Not a single copy of any of my stories exists. I think. Maybe a cousin has a copy of one, I don’t know. I like to think in epic terms, so I imagine that they’re all entirely lost and this delights me simply because it’s severe. Though I hated, hated the arts and literature – and took none of them seriously – I had a fondness for writing. As a very sickly adolescent, I had but few things to keep me occupied: reading, make-up homework, video games, writing. I retreated often to my intellect, which was the safest place I knew how to be. Writing became a way to play for once, to simply see what I could do, and it became a way to work through emotions that felt largely unavailable to me. Which was any emotion. At all. I had a strong affection for Spock.

The irony is that my career today is built on my knowledge of and sensitivity to the arts, especially poetry. The truth is that I love poetry, literature, the arts. But I didn’t know that. I was young and an idiot and really hurting.

I hated beauty because I perceived its strong relation to feeling. To desire, to willing. The Ancient Greeks and Medievals thought that beauty was simply an aspect of what they called the Good, which was the “highest” goodness, or goodness “itself.” For them, the Good was especially associated with the will. In other words, we want good things. Want and will match together. Beauty was woven with wanting. I knew something of this, though I knew nothing of philosophy. Feeling and desiring flared unstable and horrific in my young mind, twisted all together on tenterhooks. I could not bear to want or to feel. My secret life of trauma and abuse – I told no one, after all – left me wracked by profound distrust and confusion over nearly any feeling at all, especially desire. Especially that.

Once I failed a moral theology test because I couldn’t make myself read any of the questions on sex. I circled whatever. I literally couldn’t read the words. I never failed anything in theology. I have a fucking doctorate in theology. It’s funny. Kind of.

So by the time I reached college, there was a way in which storytelling – especially writing – remained with me as this single, unanticipated avenue to yearn and to feel. And that I did. I wasn’t all that great at it, the feeling or the writing, but I worked hard at both – and only together.

One central character was a young woman with four vicious scars across half her face. She herself was vicious, angry and half-feral. Dangerous with knives. Always taciturn, never cautious, never soft. She was an unsubtle figure of my own inexplicable feelings, the ones so haunted by violence and that singular rage that comes from violence. May no one ever have to know it. That peculiar, suffocating self-hating fire.

It would have fit nicely with one of those young adult series about horrible worlds that are so popular these days, the ones starring young women who are heroic and beautiful. Only my creation was much, much more brutal and physically marred. She grew up among demons. (So had I.) And it could’ve fit for a movie so long as I was never in charge of it. All of my stories ended with everyone dying.

I can see it so clearly, looking back. The young mind struggling so hard to understand violence.

I wasn’t that great at writing stories. My temperament left me far too impatient for a story arc, and I hated dialogue with absurd passion (so no one freaking talked). For reasons entirely lost on me, I had a strange talent for writing romances (and battles). More than one friend told me so. I’d blush and write more battles. (Desire was not okay. It wasn’t. Not when it hurt so much. When others made it hurt.) I much preferred building to some kind of harrowing image played out in intense engagement with my reader. My imaginary reader. The one I was trying so very hard to convince something was wrong, very wrong. Imaginary, since I didn’t think I lived in a world that could be convinced by anything I said.

Why would I let myself feel, really feel, in a world like that?

Still, I became aware of just how imaginary the infinite display of personalities, places, and scenes could be. They increasingly drew me away from the world, the real one, and I felt breathlessly afraid of the feelings I could not escape – and felt suffocated by a weakness for illusion that seemed especially serious in me. It’s not real, you know. The stories. They’re not real like that. They’re just stories. And no one turns out okay, and isn’t so wrong to think that anyway? I shouldn’t even symbolize it.

A lot of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon folktales involve fairies, often women, and many of them reside around water. (Thus King Arthur’s “Lady of the Lake.”) They weren’t always nice, either. These fairies. This definitely isn’t Disney, though there might be singing. These creatures were rather dangerous. Like those sirens that had Odysseus going mad, the fairies would lure men away with their beauty and lead them to their death. It’s a fairytale-truth about something we all know: beauty tells the best lies. Why else are perfect people in advertisements telling me to buy things I don’t need?

Beauty unhinged of truth isn’t good anymore.

So I burned all my lies and with them the truths I otherwise desperately hid. I gave up on the last bit of art in me. Still, I fiddled with words. Couldn’t seem to help it. I met a friend who saw in me a certain talent, and he carefully tricked me into reading poems. At first only the very Catholic ones. The Catholic poems about Catholic things. Anything Catholic meant I’d read it for sure. Then my friend offered me Catholic poets who stretched up and away from explicitly religious topics. Then non-Catholics, atheists, anyone. By then he had worn me away into the sincerity of my love for real beauty. I started learning foreign languages and he started handing me poems in those languages. God, I loved beauty. And yearned for it.

Like some immense experiment, I absorbed everything I read. I mean the technique of it, often quite unconscious. In stories I had started to mess with the rhythms of words, and now I accidentally wrote in meter with no story at all. I made games of collapsing images together. Playing. Imitating clever little things on purpose, and many others with no awareness at all. So eventually I began writing poetry. And, to be honest, I was far better at it than I ever had been at anything else with words.

And Hopkins is the best.

My mentors in graduate school knew. I’d reference poems in class – if I spoke at all. They knew I had a certain talent, and that I tried at poetry, though I wouldn’t show anyone my poems save my friend. Maybe two other souls. With immense fear and conviction, I protected my small corner of art. Of feelings and desire. I didn’t want poetry taken from me, as if that old fire sought to consume my work again. Besides, I didn’t want to be considered strange or insane. I could do theology, dammit, and I was very logical and compelling. I wasn’t a sentimental idiot. I just wrote poems sometimes, is all, and fuck you for asking.

I loved Hans Urs von Balthasar endlessly. That unusual and brilliant theologian of beauty. I was such a hopeless contradiction, stubbornly against even a hug but enamored of theological aesthetics. What can I say? Scars do strange things to people.

My mentors eventually wanted me to combine the poetry and the theology, since Balthasar did something like this and since my double talent allowed me to understand it. I fought them the whole way. Partly I’m just crazy stubborn. Partly I resisted out of extreme (and misplaced) anxiety over whether doing this would make me “weird” to other scholars. D. Stephen Long said, “You know, it’s good to be different.” And finally, out of a very real awareness that this effort, this theological poetic, would force me to unite intellect and will – knowing and desiring – and these two I had fought very hard not to unite for most of my life. I knew, keenly, that this union would hurt.

It was agony. The words emerged elegant and calm, but the struggle to unite what even the Academy refuses to unite (intellect and emotion) left me ragged. I was fiercely determined to be clear, logical. Almost cold. Carefully, deliberately, cooly – I tried. And then I’d break in with yearning, bittersweet pain, beautiful hope. It was a kind of cunning, the writing. Ever so clear and aching. My every power bent to keep them – clarity, aching – close.

And through it I reached those things in me that hurt the most. The terrible, breathless losses. Everything true and real in me broke open and broke apart. That’s what it felt like, anyway. Honestly, I was also exhausted by far too many years of silence. Trauma doesn’t exactly go away. It hides right in your skin, lights up nerves. Still, I’m not sure I’d have really seen that in myself so vividly if I hadn’t been encouraged to draw together the two things I loved. Beauty and truth.

It cost not less than everything.

And finally, finally I could learn to stop lying. It has been a long road since, but good.