Sunday, April 12, 2015

National Poetry Month—UU Poet Blogger Pals

Like a lot of folks who spend/waste time on Facebook, I belong to a bunch of groups.  Some I accidently stumbled into—somehow I am in a group of artists of all kinds most of whose members are Scientologists—and some I idly signed up for but don’t much engage in.   Others keep me connected to old college friends, Wobblies, my old Chicago Neighborhoods and hangouts (mostly long vanished saloons), denizens and readers of the old Chicago SEED.  Chicago Bughouse (Washington) Square is and eclectic forum for opinion, observation, and wise cracks from folks connected to the city and in the spirit of the famous old soapbox free speech haven.  In fact I belong to a number of groups related to Chicago history, nostalgia, architecture, and photography.  Then there are several groups that reflect my inconsistent interests—history of various types, eras, and areas; folk music; old movies including a group where drooling geezers post glamor and film set stills of mostly dead actresses; politics; and, of course, books.  And then there are the groups that try to keep me in the loop about the latest outrages and connected to what to do about them.  As you see, wasting an entire day on Facebook is no trouble at all for me.

But one of the most valuable and engaging groups I belong to is the UU Bloggers Workshop which offers support, advise, criticism, ideas, and community to Unitarian Universalist Bloggers.  In some ways I am an odd-person out there.  Most of the members are ministers or seminarians.  At least a couple are high level journalists and social commentators.  Lay members tend to focus on spiritual growth or niche issues within UUism.  I am none of those things.  I am an un-credentialed and un-degreed mope.  I maintain an eclectic, general interest blog which only occasionally deals with Unitarian Universalism, mostly via history and biographical posts.  Once or twice a year I lob a rhetorical grenade at some hot button issue of polity and governance and sit back and watch a largely outraged scramble in response.  And, as readers here can attest, on most days I am as deeply spiritual as a tree stump.  But of course the transcendentalists and pagans among the other bloggers will remind me of the deep spiritual symbolism of the stump.  Despite all of this and my tendency for long, rambling posts and general blowhardiness, the other members of the group tolerate me pretty well.

I actually learn a lot from them.  They are almost universally my moral betters so I am goaded into improvement as a human being even when I would rather stew in resentment and anger or cleave to comfortable, but unjust habits.  I gotta admit, this group helps me fill my spiritual gas tank about as well as anything this side of one of Rev. Sean Dennison’s Sunday morning Sermons.

Several of the blogger members of the group are also accomplished poets.  And what better time to share them with you than on Sunday morning.

Rev. Theresa Novak.
The Rev. Theresa Novak was born in a small, Northern California Town and began writing poetry as a teenager and attended from the University of California at Berkley from 1968 to 1974 earning a BA in demography and a MA in sociology.  Those were turbulent years in Berkley so she also got a heavy dose of education in applied activism. 

In 1975 Novak began a committed relationship with her partner Anne and together raised three children, all now young adults.  The couple were legally wed in California in July of 2013 when it became possible in her state and had a religious ceremony January of 2014, on their 39th anniversary.

She worked for the Social Security Administration in Richmond, California and rose through the ranks to management positions in a career that spanned 25 years.  She was also the national President of the Social Security Conference of the Federal Managers Association.

After taking early retirement Novak began working to realizing a long cherished ambition by enrolling in Star King School for the Ministry and received her Master of Divinity degree in 2007.
That fall she began service as the called minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden, Utah.  Novak served that congregation for almost 7 years until June 2014 and was named Minister Emerita upon her departure.

Novak and her partner returned to the familiar territory of Berkley where she began service last fall as developmental minister for the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists.

Shaky Ground
(It doesn’t happen often
Thank God
Or your Lucky Stars)
The ground
Beneath you moves
With such sudden violence
It knocks you down
Upon your knees
And everything
Around you falls
Shatters in an instant
Your foundation cracked
The ideas you have hung
So carefully on your wall
In ruins on the floor
With the everyday plates,
Wine glasses,
And holiday platters
Stay on your knees
A moment
Look up
The sky shines still
And sparrows fly
Let’s follow them.

—Rev. Theresa Novak

Karen G. Johnston

Karen G. Johnston is another west coast bred and raised woman, but a generation younger than Theresa Novak.  She was born in Oregon, a decedent of generations of farmers there and later went to school in Southern California.  A child of the late ‘60’s she traveled the world as a young adult living in or visiting East Africa, Sweden, West Germany, most of the rest of Western Europe, Cuba, and Leningrad in the old USSR. 

After settling in Massachusetts Johnston got a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Smith College in 1995 and had a career as a social worker specializing in services to young children and home visitation.  Meanwhile she tended her own two adopted children, now teenagers.

She was a member of the Unitarian Society of Northampton & Florence and a practicing Vipassana Buddhist.  Johnston is also a declared socialist and has been active in UU social justice work, especially through the Standing on the Side of Love.

All of that led to her enrollment to Hartford Seminary in 2011 transferring to Andover-Newton Theological School in 2014 to prepare for the UU ministry.  She expects to complete her studies next year.  She currently serves as ministerial intern at First Parish Church of Groton.

Johnston has long written and published poetry and now incorporates it into worship.  She has performed readings of her work throughout western Massachusetts, but admits the heavy demands of seminary and parish ministry have cut into both her public performances and her poetic output.

She blogs at irrevspeckay.

The variations of type styles and color are just as she posted them on her blog.  Any devotee of e.e. cummings or William Carlos Williams will tell you that the appearance of the poem on the page is very important to some writers. 

For Someone in Deep Pain Who Does Not Yet Pray (prayer)

Let me begin by setting aside my skepticism,
my sarcasm, my doubt, my intellectualized judgment,
my clever snarky attitude that wants to
shut me up and keeps me shut down.

I do not release it completely,
for it serves me well in other circumstances,
but I let go my tight grasp,
leaving room for something more,

Let me say these words:
dear god,
and not choke, not giggle,
nor fill with fear.
If I cannot bring myself to say,
dear god,

let the sweetest voice I know,
someone who loves me deeply,
let their voice, be the voice that says,

dear god.
And if my pain is so loud,
(which it is too many days)
that I cannot hear the voice of a loving friend;
if my mind so full of hurt and shame,
that I cannot remember anyone
who loves me without end,

let me imagine someone,
someone soft, and kind,
whom I’ve not yet met,
whose name I give as Phred,
(yes, it is okay to laugh,
laughter is a salve),

Phred will bathe you
in the light of love.
It will be Phred’s voice,
cooing to you, this prayer:

dear god, I am in pain.
dear god, I fear this pain will consume me.
dear god, I try to hide from others
how big this pain is,

but I think some can see it
on my face,
in how I walk,
in how I run away.

I pray that there is something in me,
that is not this pain;
I pray that there is something in me,
that is not this shame;
I pray that there is something in me,
that is not this darkness.

dear god, I don’t always believe that.
I ask you to, when I cannot.

dear god, I don’t even believe in you,
dear god, I don’t know if I believe in you,
still I ask for this immense thing:
let me find the strength to repeat these words:

There is something in me that is not this pain.
There is something in me that is not this shame.
There is something in me that is not this darkness.

dear god, whom I am not at all sure exists,
dear god, whose name I am saying only to please a friend,
give me the strength, to say these words, too:

There is something in me that is worthy;
there is something in me that is true;
there is something in me that is whole.


Karen G. Johnston

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