Category: theopoetics


Do you hear the bells ring?

westword lmaw vigil 068

Do you hear the bells ring?

They are calling you to church.

They ring for Kiribati.

Do you hear the bells ring?

They are calling you to church.

They ring for Gaza.

Do you hear the bells ring?

They are calling you to church.

They ring for Sulawesi.

Do you hear the bells ring?

They are calling you to church.

They ring for land never ceded.

Do you hear the bells ring?

They are calling you to church.

They ring for Manus and Nauru.

Do you hear the bells ring?

They are calling you to church.

They ring for you.

Talitha Fraser

Reaching for Mercy Greenbelt 2018 Proost Talitha Fraser

“Here is poetry arising from the beautiful souls of poets you have passed on the street, never knowing they carried words that must be spoken… the poems are at times angry howls of protest or cries of lament, at other times they are saturated with hope.”

What makes a poem spiritual/Christian and therefore worthy of inclusion in this anthology? This is not an easy question to answer, at least in part because poetic spirituality is not a familiar part of our dominant religious culture. I have found it helpful to read the poetry written by the Sufi poets- Attar, Rumi, Sanai etc. They write poems that are not about instruction or impartation of theological truth (although they might achieve both) neither are they always about ‘God’ at all- rather they are written by people seeking truth, beauty and honesty. Sometimes they tip over into mysticism, as if what they are writing has gone beyond even their own understanding. Poetry like this creates open spaces for our spirituality to adventure; we feel it as much as we understand it…we just ‘know’ it when we read it. The poem soars inside us.

…So here we are. The starting page of a new book. A book full of people reaching for mercy.

Chris Goan

It has been a privilege over the past year to work with Chris Goan the curator of Proosts’ Poetry Collection Vol. 2 “Reaching for Mercy” and to travel to the UK for it’s launch at the Greenbelt Festival. Chris has a way of seeing people and holding space for how they see the world that’s captured and collated in this lovely collection by 8 editors and over a 100 contributors from all over the world… it’s not just “pretty” poetry, it’s protest too. Across all the themes: truth, wild, resisting, lament, hope, post truth, everyone is welcome, whole… there is a poignant paradox of sure hope and disbelieving grief in responding to the way the world is.  I think this collection speaks to our times. I hope it speaks to you.

 

Our model at events is to read one of our own poems and one by another contributor as a way of bringing that broader community of beautiful ordinary souls together. These are the pieces I read at Greenbelt…

God, did you see the news today?

God, did you see the news today?
We’re killing one another.
We’re killing in places killing has gone on so long we don’t know how to stop…
We’re killing next door.
We’re killing one another.

God, did you see the news today?
We’re laying waste to the world
to consume, consume, consume
an appetite “stuff” cannot sate.
Our elders know. Our elders tell us.
We ignore their wisdom.

God, did you see the news today?
People are saying hateful, hurtful things
what is right, what is wrong
what is holy, what is profane
…as if we know. As if we could know.

God, did you see the news today?
Were you there when we turned the boats away?
We are denying people food, electricity, sanitation, shelter, medical care…
We are denying people their basic human rights.

People are grieved and weary.
Longing for a world that is different
but not knowing where to start.
Not knowing how to start.
All victims, variously blind.

I’m not pointing fingers, I’m raising my hand.
I need Your help. We need Your help.

Amen.

 

And I was also very proud to read this piece written by my sister Abby. It felt significant to feel like I was representing some voice of Australia and New Zealand all the way around the world. It includes language and it includes my family. It speaks to home, belonging and identity… thanks for your work and words Mana Wahine… x

 

My Truth belongs to me
Abby Wendy

My Truth belongs to me. I will hold it tight, hold it close.
I will bury it deep.
My truth is a tūrangawaewae for the roots of my heart.
I will water it.
My truth is a nesting place for my wairua.

My truth is reflected in ten thousand random moments.
I am shining like the sun in the secret power of my own unique truth.

My truth requires no scientific proof – I believe it.
My truth requires no majority support – I believe it.

If I whisper my truth in your ear, will you stand with me? Would you trample the roots of my heart, buried deep, in my sacred place of belonging? Where will my spirit rest, if my truth becomes ash?

I will hold it tight, hold it close.
I will bury it deep.
My Truth belongs to me.

 



Copies of this book are available from Proost, if you know me it might be worth waiting as I’ll likely do a bulk order to Australia and you can get one from me directly if that’s easier… If you haven’t heard of it, Proost is a small publishing outlet aimed at gathering together resources from the creative edges of Church. Proost have lots of interesting stuff on their site – animations, songs, Easter and Advent resources, books… so have a look around while you’re there!

rubem Alves spiritual reading group Carmelite centre for spirituality middle park theopoetics

Was Rubem Alves a poet, psychoanalyst, theologian, or philosopher? Yes.

Somewhere beyond tidy definition and cataloguing “The Poet, The Warrior, The Prophet” is an invitation to visit a place that you’ve been before but forgotten you knew.

In the same way the Eucharist is a poetic ritual of anthropophagy Rubem asks us to take in his words and be changed by them.

Gleanings shared with the Spiritual Reading Group at the Carmelite Centre, Middle Park –  19 June 2018.

 

In his article “An Anthropophagous Ritual, “ Rubem Alves wrote:

Anthropophagy is the eating of human flesh – cannibalism, something savage. But so-called savages don’t think so. A tribe of Brazilian Indians who practices anthropophagy justified it thus:  “You who call yourselves civilised don’t love your dead.  You made deep holes and bury them to be eaten by worms. We, on the other hand, love our dead. We don’t want them to be dead.  But they are dead! There is only one way to keep them alive: if we eat them. If we eat them, their flesh and blood continue to live on in our own bodies. 

Anthropophagy isn’t done for nutritional reasons. It isn’t a barbecue. It’s a magical ceremony.  It is believed that, by eating the dead, their virtues are incorporated into those who eat them. Psychoanalysts agree. They believe that our personality is formed by successive anthropophagus meals at which we devour a piece of one person, a piece of another… the Eucharist is a poetic ritual of anthropophagy: “This bread is my body; eat of it. This wine is my blood: drink of it.”

…that is what I wish. To be eaten.

 

rubem Alves theopoetics the poet, the warrior, the prophetRubem Alves died on the of 19 July 2014, aged 80 – almost exactly 4 years ago – this material we’re about to read was originally delivered at the 1990 Edward Cadbury Lectures in the University of Birmingham, segments of 8 talks given over two weeks and our invitation today is to read Alves work and take him in. Rubem Alves had a pretty extraordinary view of life and way of expressing that descriptively to others.

alves spider 1Alves spider 2

Although Stanley Hopper and David Miller are credited with coining the term theopoetics, and  Amos Wilder’s “Theopoetics: Theology and the Religious Imagination” is considered the seminal text of the field, Rubem Alves’ writing takes credit as a premium model of the style – combining theology and poetry.

Theopoetics is an interdisciplinary field of study that combines elements of narrative theology, poetic analysis, process theologyand postmodern philosophy.

Amos Wilder says: “Old words do not reach across the new gulfs, and it is only in vision and oracle that we can chart the unknown and new-name the creatures. Before the message there must be the vision, before the sermon, the hymn, before the prose, the poem.” Rubem calls us into an encounter of the Mystery of the Divine saying:

it’s not science that can explain this,
but our lived embodied experiences
.”

 

alves dead man 1Alves Dead Man 2Alves dead man 3

Rubem Alves was a forerunner of the liberation theology movement and key to the transformation of Christian social ethics in light of this thinking.  He was a writer, a psychoanalyst, a theologian, an educator, a storyteller, a poet…During his career, Alves collaborated with notable personalities such as Peter MaurinDorothy Day, and Paulo Freire. He was widely read and frequently included art and quotes from the work of others in confluence with his own including writers such as Rilke, Emily Dickinson, Tolstoi, e.e.cummings, Bonhoffer, and Sigmund Freud among others – 74 different references in these lectures alone… you gain from this a sense of a man who is listening to the world and taking it in. These lectures perhaps the map of some of Alves’ anthopophagus meals.  Alves was a prolific writer contributing over 100 books, some of these translated into six different languages, children’s books (“Happy Oysters Don’t Make Pearls”) and many articles on education, philosophy and religion.

alves prayer 1Alves prayer 2

Rubem Alves was born in a small rural town, Boa Esperança, Minas Gerais, of Brazil in1933. His father was once rich but went broke during the depression and his family had to move to Rio de Janeiro where he was seen as a “hick” from the country.  This crisis was also what led his family to the church as, unable to afford to send the children to school, the family accepted assistance from Presbyterian missionaries to get their children an education.  After high school Alves studied theology, doing outreach to factory workers, then returning to his home state to serve as a pastor amongst simple and poor people (1957).  His religion was practiced and interpreted from the perspective of the poor.  Less about sin, and more about love and freedom, Alves saw religion as a means to improve the world of the living rather than guaranteeing something to people once they’re dead.  Much of what resonates in his writing is the way he takes ordinary human things and makes them sacred. The honesty with which he does this, asks listeners to consider the truth of themselves and invites them to know that as wholeness.  He writes about bodies, love, death, food, communion – universal themes…  and he writes beautifully… believing:

“…the goal of our struggle for justice and all political struggles is for the world to be more beautiful.  Poverty is horrid, it’s ugly. Poverty is death, death of children, suffering. These are terrible things! They must end!”

In 1959, he married Lídia Nopper and they had three children together — Sergio, Marcos, and Raquel.   Through the 1960s, Alves alternated between service as a Presbyterian parish pastor and study as a graduate researcher in theology. Alves went to New York to do his Masters but flew back to Brazil following the US-supported military coup of 1964. The Presbyterian Church of Brazil chose six intellectuals as scapegoats and offered these names to the new military dictatorship to avert persecution themselves.  Immediately upon his return to Brazil, rather than being reunited with his wife and children, Alves had to go into hiding. With assistance from Brazilian Freemasons and the Presbyterian Church in the United Stateshe returned to the US covertly 8 weeks later and secured an invitation from Princeton Theological Seminary  to commence doctoral studies there – where he hated it – he was not allowed to write using similes or poetry and thought this writing his ugliest. Alves received the lowest possible grade that was still a pass for his PhD. ( A Theology of Human Hope. Washington: Corpus Books. Revised version of his doctorate thesis, originally titled Towards a Theology of Liberation.) Of this academic theological approach Alves commented:

“Theology is not a net that is woven in order to capture God in its meshes,
for God is not a fish but Wind that no one can hold.  

Theology is a net which we weave for ourselves so that
we may stretch out our body in it”

 

Alves babettes Feast 1Alves Babette's feast 2

When he eventually returned to Brazil in 1974, Rubem became a University Professor.  Having been expelled by the denomination he belonged to, Rubem (along with other communities and pastors) had a painful period of isolation and dispersion until 1978, when together they founded the National Federation of Presbyterian Churches which, from 1983 on was named the United Presbyterian Church of Brazil (IPU). Rubem made significant contribution to the founding documents of this new church and it was said of this work by The Rev. Sonia Gomes Mota: “He was not interested in giving us moral lessons or transmitting the absolute and indisputable truth. As a good theologian, philosopher and educator, he was more interested in making us think, reflect and question the immutable truths of theology and urged us to envision new possibilities and new ways of living our faith. Rubem led us to deserts and invited us to be gardeners and planters of hope.”

Born in a context of political and social oppression,preaching and teaching of God’s word as well as social programmes such as nurseries, sewing workshops, health centres, psychological services, and literacy courses are just a few examples of the integrated activities developed by these new church communities. They were the first Presbyterian church in Brazil to ordain women.

Alves once remarked,

“Prophets are not visionaries who announce a future that is coming. Prophets are poets who design a future that may happen. Poets suggest a way.”

Rubem Alves would go on to add psychotherapy to his portfolio and establish his own clinic. In later life, although he maintained a pastoral and prophetic touch with the people he encountered, Rubem’s association with institutional religion became more detached as he came to believe that space, that curiosity, that out of the “nothing” offered by poetry, more good could come than of liberation theology.

Alves unlearning

Autumn Love

Autumn Love dean brodel stardust poem

I come to You with Nothing

true love brewing Bar Josephine Footscray Melbourne 2017

I come to You with Nothing
dark abyss and empty
sometimes I pretend
sometimes I avoid
sometimes I hide.

But if I came to You
with my hands full
I would not be able
to receive anything.
You.

You spun heaven and
earth and light and
dark and land and
sky and birds and
beasts and me…
from Nothing.

You are not afraid of it,
the possibility of it,
and nor shall I be.
Dark abyss and empty
potential.

 

Talitha Fraser

I leave a door ajar

chalk drawing infinity and heart

I leave a door ajar
a window open
creating space for You
invitation
to a potential
encounter
You don’t come
and I learn anew
there’s a discipline
to this
holding space
moulding grace

Talitha Fraser

labyrinth west footscray park

I am an emotional creature…
I love You.
Most days that doesn’t feel enough.
I want to do more for You.
I am grateful for that hunger.

Love. We look for it.

 

Talitha Fraser

not spill

outdoor light underneath at night outdoor bath lighting

not spill
knot spills
unravelling
dark matter
from black hole
consuming all
in its path

tug
loose strands
but I cannot
come undone

feels like malice
some ironic
toast to the Powers
that are killing me
we are all dying

 

Talitha Fraser

You set out

pink tiny daisy growing in a brick wall where flowers shouldn't be

you set out | not a doubt | full of faith
and truth | but the Tree of Life has no
fruit for you | what to do? | Set it
aflame and watch it burn | wood
you learn, burn, would you turn it to
good? [break] the conveyor belt
of happiness leads somewhere else |
you felt lied to | denied too | choice |
red or blue pill | black or white
still | frame | blame | psych, dyke
scared of the light not the dark
because the dark is safe | [break]
I find it hard to trust now
[break] people will tell you there
is no other way | stay | but I
say go… and pray | The Way is
what you make it | I don’t fit anymore
I don’t sit anymore in a pew for
you | leading or led? | bleeding but
fed | speeding or dead. [break]

 

Talitha Fraser

pre-pare

flowers and candles pink and tellows table set for birthday dinner

pre-pare
clear the way
and the table
flatware
plenty to share
light a candle
set it there
against the dark
and speak of grace

Talitha Fraser