Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Georgia O'Keefe To Her Guardians, And Me

(Ghost Ranch, October 1997)

If you see
a young woman
in her mid-20s
crossing boundaries
jumping fences
leaving footprints
in suncaked earth...
a desert banshee,
Leave her be
Let her be.

For someday
it will be
that others jump her fences
to see, to know, to get a glimpse
for she like me
saw it fit
to be a boundary crosser
traipsing, trespassing
forging her own way
paying homage
to wayward ways
uncommon ways to see and be.

Young woman
standing here
on my property
turned outsider
transgressor, barging in
I leave a message for you

on these altars built of stones and bones
pieces of myself, my visions
left open now for you
a journal scrawled upon the desert floor

Do you see how it speaks?
Mark this place
know it well
taking what you saw.

Continuing the strokes
that I made here
strokes that felt, perceived
of a different way to be
strokes that show
that part of you awakened here
made presently aware
of a need
to touch
what has for so long been
blocked, fenced off, and locked.

Do not hesitate
Don't look back
throw your caution to the wind
this desert wind
And go.

Go into these strokes
their shapes and forms
into their power of transformity
liek fervored boldness
spilling from your lips
your unruly lips
into places left yet untouched
you are charged
Now go.

Lillian Fuchs
Voice, 1998

He broke me down...

He broke me down
like a cardboard box
and put me out on the cold sidewalk

She came at night
and scooped me up
and brought me to her trash-to-energy plant

I felt so comforted
enclosed and enfolded
in a safe space
with others just like me

Then she began to sort through us
and send us through the doorway

I walked alone
into the radiant umber room
where I felt the heat of my burden

There was only one place to go

Frightened, but trusting, I entered the fire
that consumed me and changed me forever

"Now fly away," she said,
"And go back and face him, renewed."

Lynne Mikulak
Voice, 1998

16 May 1997

Last night I stayed in a small village in the West Bank. I was housed by a Palestinian Christian family, who had a seventeen-year-old daughter, Sharooq. Perhaps because of the relative closeness in age, or perhaps because of our childless state, Sharooq and I bonded during the short night that I spent with her family. Sharooq and I shared a room that evening, and despite our initial bond, I felt apprehensive as I crawled into bed that night. I recall my ridiculous anxiety that the pajamas I had brought with me were somehow inappropriate. I was in a strange place and exhausted; however, I had consumed too much Arabic coffee late in the evening and did not immediately fall asleep.

As we laid in bed, Sharooq and I talked for hours, questioning each other about her life. I asked her about school; she asked me about dating in the United States. We talked of music, our likes and dislikes, and many other monumental and irrelevant things. Eventually, Sharooq spoke of her desire to go to a university and study English, with the hope of teaching someday. As we chatted, I knew that we were both thinking the same thing: Sharooq would never fulfill her dream, as there was no university in her village. Additionally, the travel restrictions imposd upon the Palestinians would not allow for her to nearest university that accepted Palestinians. Yet, neither of us mentioned this. We spoke freely and confidently of her plans, as if she were leaving to do this first thing in the morning.

I will never forget the ache in my chest as I listened to her, nor will I forget my respect for her at that moment. This young woman had dreams. Despite her everyday reality, Sharooq looked to this future with hope, excitement and an understated dignity.

As the night slipped into morning, we fell silent. I lay awake from all that caffeine and tried to let physical and mental exhaustion overtake me. Sharooq broke our silence with a question: "America is a Christian country and we are Christians, why are you doing this to us?"

I laid there in the darkness and tried to formulate a response. I began and discarded sentences about international politics and religion. Each response I formulated seemed inadequate. I realized I could not answer her "why". Because I did not want to show her my ignorance or inadequacy, I pretended I was asleep.

1 March 1998

Today, I write in apology and confession. I heard Sharooq's voice that night and chose silence instead of admitting my own inadequacy. As an American and a Christian, I was embarrassed. Yet, the deafening silence that permeated the room that night was not empty; it was filled with the loud crashes of my theology falling to the floor.

The loud echo of Sharooq's question still echoes in my head. Since, I have left her, every word I read is tainted with hopefulness and urgency. I am looking for an answer to her question. I did not speak that night, because I did not know what to say. When I do find the answer and struggle to raise my voice, the words that I will speak will be weighted with her memory.

If I had the opportunity to relive that night, I would not remain silent. Although I still would not have the answer to her question, I would have sat up and screamed for us both. I would have screamed as loudly as I could. Then Sharooq would know that I did hear her and suffer with her. The silence would have shattered and been unable to grow between us. "If nothing else is left, one must scream. Silence is the real crime against humanity" (Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope).

Kathleen Flinton
Voice, 1998

painting on saturday

i'm painting
the hallway antique white
I hum bob dylan
as the roller
spit-speckles the wall,
the not-quite-white
freckles my skin

and i think about
possible careers,
muffin recipes,
loving a new man,
trimming my hair--
as the gravel-thick
of dylan rolls
over me

my overalls hang
pantlegs rolled to my knees
my grandad's paint shirt
spread over me like canvas
i am dipped in eggshell creaminess
spattering the chipped old
with fresh stickyness

when i cannot make things new
I redo
hallways and overripe thoughts,
little steps in an ivory smudged life
working the edges
with a half can of paint

Shelly Rambo
Voice, 1998

The Spirit of Gender

Traditionally, the Holy Spirit has been identified as the "feminine" aspect of the triune God because of its possession of what we understand to be "feminine" characteristics. Recently, with questions of gendered language, this appropriation has been questioned also. It is my contention that the Holy Spirit can be seen that both "feminine" and "masculine" characteristics abound. However, rather than advocating a new androgenous member of the Trinity, I argue for the Holy Spirit's ability to provide a model for our own living in communion with one another as creatures of God.

The contemporary theologian John J. O'Donnell believes there are several important reasons for designating the Holy Spirit with the feminine dimension of God. One involves the definition of the Holy Spirit as pure receptivity in relation to the Father and the Son. Another is the understanding of the Holy Spirit as a gift of God. And finally, the Holy Spirit understood as the "fruitfulness" of the love of the Father and Son (I will use the traditional names for the other two members of the Trinity in this reflection in order to place the argument for a feminine Spirit in its proper context).

By identifying the Holy Spirit as "pure receptivity," the Spirit's primary function within the Trinity is defined not as giving but as receiving. The Spirit's identity is understood through her relation to the Father and Son. It is not difficult to see how our own cultural ideas and gender stereotypes get in the way of our seeing the Spirit as it really is. In a culture so bound by women's labels which only classify them in relation to the men in their lives (e.g. Miss, Ms., Mrs.), it is difficult to escape its effects in our attempts to understand the divine relationship. However, it must be made clear that although the Spirit may gain its identity through its relationship with the Father and Son, the other aspects of the Trinity also receive their identities because of the others. Why is there a Father and Son? Because of their relation to the other. Without any one of the Trinitarian persons, God as we understand God would not exist. Each person receives its life from another and at the same time gives life in return. Rather than claiming the Spirit's receptivity as a sign of pure dependence on the other (male) members of the Trinity, it should be seen as a divine blessing among a company of mutually giving and receiving members.
The Holy Spirit as the divine gift of God continues the defining principle of dependence by making the Spirit an object under the discretion of another. However, it is important to consider the function of the gift once it is given. The Spirit as a gift sent forth from God to the world does not merely end at the presentation, like a wrapped Christmas package (no pun intended) that is never opened, but the Spirit also functions in the world. The Spirit, once given to the world, is an active agent in the lives of all of God's creatures. In order for the eschatological event to be realized, the Spirit must work intensely in God's world...The Spirit is much more than a passive gift--it is a vibrant, living piece of God in the world.

Lastly, the Spirit's "fruitfulness" has been understood in two ways that identify it as "feminine." The first is as one member of the divine marriage who comes together to produce a Son. The other is the Spirit as the natural outgrowth of the divine love between the Father and Son that is extended to humanity. O'Donnell states that the Holy Spirit "not only perfects the divine love but is the opening of the divine love outward to the world, to time and to history." The Spirit enables the bond of love between Father and Son to be perfected, the Spirit enables humanity to participate in this divine love. Again, the Spirit is not only sent on an errand but plays the necessary role in opening the triune relationship of love to the world.
The characteristics associated with receptivity, gift and fruitfulness might be those traditionally associated with femininity. However, as we have seen, the Holy Spirit also manifests many other traits of humanity--traits that are normally associated with men. The Spirit works actively within the bond of the Trinity and especially within the community of believers to offer the experience of the Trinitarian God to all. Therefore, the Holy Spirit must be seen as a harmonious combination of all of the human traits of femininity and masculinity in order for its true role within the Trinity to be realized.

The combination of masculine and feminine traits within the Holy Spirit has been established not for the purpose of advocating a gender-neutral Spirit. Instead, these connections have been made in order to show the way in which humanity has placed its own gender constructions of femininity onto the divine being when in reality all aspects of the human life (that we have come to label "masculine" and "feminine") can be seen working in the Spirit. By examining the cooperation of masculine and feminine traits in the life of the Spirit, we see the way in which we, women and men, are called to participate in the divine life. Rather than assigning the Trinity human characteristics in order to interpret our experience, let us allow the Trinity and its divine relationship speak to us about what living a life of receptivity, gift, fruitfulness, activity, and faith is all about.

Cynthia Weems
Voice, 1996

Soul Farm

You dug deep furrows
in my encrusted attitudes,
plowed old layers loose,
lifting brain-clods to the sun.

What hope is there
for struggling seeks
without honesty slicing
complacency into rows?

Overturned from moist darkness
are habits, old mulch,
with recent stubble,
excess, plowed under.

My stubborn field is tear-soaked,
barren, except for your furrows
in fresh-opened rows and
tractor-treads across my heart.

Soul-farmer, what do you see?
Endless barrenness ahead?
Or row by row, as you work,
seedlings in the spring?

From one end of attitudes
to the other of my self,
my monolithic surface is
broken up, broken down.

The length and breadth of me
are deeply plowed, disturbed
into new ordering, soul rows
readied one by one.

Peggy S. Block
Voice, 1996