I value the domestic arts. I believe in the importance of beauty, whether that beauty is in the form of a poem or a child’s first birthday cake. Yet, I have recently arrived at a place where the things I have learned, the skills I have practiced, and the supplies I have hoarded in kitchen cabinets and over-stuffed drawers are no longer helping me to create this precious thing called hospitality.
It is slightly possible that the world needs calculating over-thinkers like me to help them see just as much as we grim curmudgeons need light-hearted souls to help us see and remember to breathe. As with dancing, some things are better left to more carefree, exuberant night owls. For my part, I hope to learn to gently move through the achy breaky friction of stress and near-falling apart in order to participate in my own idiosyncratic dance of sorts: one of genuine levity and introspection, delighting in motion and the way living and dying dance and wait on one another.
Troughs are crucial seasons in the life of faith, revealing the rotting, lesser crutches on which we depend, conditioning our spiritual muscles, and nurturing our hope in heaven. Sorrow and suffering produce immense spiritual momentum. Grasping their hands as traveling companions, like Much Afraid in Hannah Hurnard’s time-honored allegory Hinds’ Feet on High Places, strengthens our stride over time. Rejecting them produces bitterness and strain, because the troughs will find us, whether or not we look for them.
Poetry will never buy me bread or pay my rent. It will never pick up my children from school when I’m sick. It will not offer me a ride to the airport. Poetry will slip from my memory when I am old, phrases long memorized will most likely be buried under medical bills and compression hose and even so it will not forsake me completely. It will live deep in my cells, deep in my breath, deep in my history, and my making. It will buoy me when the water rises, when the dark falls, holding me with unseen hands, the memory of years past; words placed like pillars long forgotten.
On this trip to Kentucky, I’m staying in a small cottage overlooking the pond at the back of Bethany Springs (the Thomas Merton Retreat Center), rather than at the monastery itself. Partly because of something I felt with renewed force when I finished reading Merton’s memoir last year. I am interested in neither a monastic life, nor an ascetic one. I’ll gladly stand with Jovinianus (and against St. Jerome, who identified this as an honest-to-God heresy, back in the year 393) in the declaration that abstinence from food is no better, in the eyes of God, than a thankful receiving of such. And you’ll find me much quicker these days to quote Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” than to agree with St Paul’s Greek-influenced dichotomy between spirit and flesh.