Discalced Carmelite Friars

Province of St. Therese

Art for Living and Praying

I’ve been reflecting on my upbringing – how I was raised – the culture, family and experiences that shaped how I grew up.  It was idyllic up to a certain point, and then after that certain point, everything changed.  I was not equipped to handle what occurred and became a sort of child hermit.  

Emotional faults were entrenched into my psyche while I built up a fortress in hopes of never being that vulnerable again.  I had to be a rock – I had to show the world I was strong…that evil hadn’t won.  Sigh.  Oh, the foolish things that grownups heap upon children, just because they themselves don’t know what to do and are hurting just as badly – possibly even more. 

How sad it is, that a moment of trauma sent my life spiraling out of control, making it difficult to develop – or grow naturally – into a healthy human being.   Yet, it is remarkable that without guidance or even example, I was stamped with a spiritual persona.  I was marked by a nature, that prayed interiorly, without knowing it; and a nature deeply sensitive to things that move the soul – beautiful things like art and music.  To say that I love music and love to dance would be an understatement.  My family often says that the knocking of spoons is enough to get me dancing. This is only half true, because if the knocking is not rhythmic…I won’t dance.

Although I suffered from all kinds of learning issues – I was in remedial reading up to age of 12 - I loved literature and had a natural attraction to poetry.  But there was a problem with my early exposure to poetry.  On one side, it was viewed as such a high art form that people didn’t speak about it as if they were normal (to be frank, they were downright weird in their manner of speaking about poetry).  The other side of my exposure to poetry were that people hated it – and this was more common in my environment.  Even at school, none of the students in poetry class enjoyed it.  They would make fun of the teacher – Mrs. Muir – always egging on the class-clown to disrupt every single class period.  Our poetry class never lasted a full session, because Sister Martynella – the Head Mistress – had to be called in.  Even now I can remember feeling sad that the class ended prematurely.  I was unquestionably drawn to poetry, but my interest was thwarted for decades.

Now, forty years later, Blog Central allows me a safe environment to explore a facet of myself, under a nom de plume.  I don’t know how successful I will be in this reflecton, but I want to say that poetry helps me respond to life and prayer - the mysterious, the beautiful, the helpful, the puzzling.

To begin with, is writing poetry a help or a hindrance?  I admit, it can be both, for the inspiration to write comes as mysteriously as a breeze – out of nowhere.  And the moment I take pen or pencil in hand, there is no telling what will come forth – or how much time it will occupy.  It could be a few words; a few lines; a full-length draft.  Inspiration may also come from pondering something:  a problem; a delight; a fragment of scripture; an impulse during prayer.  

Of course, this last one tends to be problematic if it’s during my 30 minutes of Mental Prayer.  Alas, not being a perfect Carmelite, I do on occasion interrupt my silent prayer and start writing (mea culpa).  What might be of interest however, is sometimes the interruption is a spiritual gift and I feel it would be impolite of me not to respond to this touch of beauty.  (May the Lord forgive me if this is wrong thinking)

Thankfully, not all poetic impulses interrupt my prayer.  It is just as likely to happen in response to misery or being handicapped by fear and too much solitude; or a lack of social adeptness.  During the dark years of my life, writing poems became a kind of release from the crippling thoughts I had about myself and the past.  I would write poems in secret and destroy them - lest anyone should see them.

Now the process of writing poems is allowing me some measure of greater interior freedom.   Often it untangles the mind, giving me a kind of space for therapeutic order.  If that sounds a bit hokey – maybe I should say it differently.  Writing poems allow me to function in a way that is necessary for me to be me.  

Did I find myself by writing poetry?  Is it a kind of therapy where I can soothe the savage beast in my breast?  Is it perhaps a means to enter into prayer?  Is it a way to discern the gift of prayer?   Is it simply my charisma – something as natural as the colour of my skin?  Is it a self-seeking and self-indulgent past time?  I can answer “yes” to all these questions.

Over the past 3 years, I’ve come to ponder life and prayer through poetry.  The down side of writing anything – but especially poetry – is that it takes me away from daily chores as I delve into the mystery of something that catches (or has caught) my attention.  The inspiration may have occurred while I was reading, praying or attending Mass.  It could be something as ordinary as being distracted by light glistening in a drop of water clinging to a crystal glass.  Or perceiving a queer luminosity suddenly spreading across the evening sky.  

More and more frequently it is a memory from childhood – filled with pleasingly plump fragrances of exotic trees and fruit – carried along a carefree breeze.  Where economic poverty mingles with contentment in a way only a poem could express.  And the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures that fill my brain fuel wordless praises sung from a heart now more grateful than sad.

Written by Hannah De Lisser
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