Last night, I was the speaker at the Ecumenical Christian Ministries’ Faith Forum: “A Liberating Take On Christianity.” Asked to speak about my vocation, avocation and spirituality, I had to admit that when I first saw the title, I wondered what the heck I got myself into. I mean, who am I as a Jew to give Christians my take on their religion? Then again, when we’re talking about KU’s ECM, we’re talking about the model for interfaith dialogue and ecumenical explorations, thanks especially to ECM’s fearless and visionary leader, Rev. Thad Holcomb.
I met Thad many years ago when his daughter Anna was our chief babysitter, bottlewasher and lifeline, particularly in the land of three young energetic children who hadn’t (and still haven’t) learned repression quite well enough. Anna’s humor and ease, not to mention her reliability and wonderfully vivid intelligence, saved the day for our family more than once, and eventually, her family and our family become close community.
So I’m up for whatever Thad might ask, although two days ago, running into Thad at breakfast with the soon-to-depart poets laureate, I gave him a deer in the headlights look when he reminded me about the forum, but then I leaned back luxuriously into this topic. You see, there’s little I would rather think and talk about then spirit, right livelihood, art as life practice, and work as extension of our callings. Here’s a nutshell lift of what I’m learning about the convergence of all of this:
- Every moment has its own calling. If we can trust ourselves enough and get clear enough to hear that calling, we’ll know what to do in the light of the moment.
- Dylan Thomas once said, “These poems, with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of Man and in praise of God, and I’d be a damn’ fool if they weren’t.” I feel the same way about anything I write or try to write.
- From the Buddhist Noble Eightfold path — a kind of wheel of how to live — I draw especially from the traditions of “Right Speech” — using our words to do good and not to harm (although I obviously fail at this often) and “Right Livelihood” — making a living for the good of all as much as possible, and in balance with our gifts, challenges, calling and community.
- Art is a spiritual practice in my mind (even if you don’t believe in spirituality and might name it differently) You’re practicing at being alive by making something. I see little distinction between writing and dreaming, meditating, doing yoga, walking mindfully or being truly alive and bare in the moment I’m living.
- Not-knowing, and dwelling in not-knowing, is the name of the game most of all for me as a writer and co-cobbler (with the universe) of my shifting career. This doesn’t mean I don’t try to control everythign some/most times, but at least I know the grasping for understanding too soon is a silly endeavor.
- “Once you have gone so far, how can you not let others return?” is the last line of a poem I wrote about Jonah, and this guides me in my life. Although people do push my buttons at times, I know that a generosity of spirit — or to be more direct, kindness — is why we’re alive.
- Making a living, making art (and writing) is a long conversation with what’s calling to me as mine (and not mine). “Is this the way to go?” I ask myself. “Do I turn into this project or that?” If I’m healthy enough to show up for the conversation, I usually find the right answer.
- I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, and all is for the best, but I do believe, to paraphrase poet Adrienne Rich, that “There are the materials.” Whatever happens are our materials for making our lives with each other, our practice, our place, our souls.