By: Ellen Nimmo
Q: What’s the difference between nerding-out and self-indulgence?
A: I’m not sure, but please forgive me for both as this is mostly about things I love, mud and poetry.
These antithetic parallels (fancy huh?) were often used in Ancient Hebrew poetry and it basically is a way to clarify extremes by the use of an opposite. This idea was drawn out for me by an encounter with a book as well as time spent pondering. The story goes like this:
A few years back, I was part of a group who was playing the game “Two Truths and a Lie.” In this game each person is asked to write down two things the people in your group probably didn’t know about you that were true and one thing that was false, then, we pass around the cards and as we read them aloud we were supposed to try and guess who each card belonged to.
I wrote: I mud.
I’m not sure why. I was trying to be clever maybe. Or funny. Or something. God knows.
Anyway, I stand by the statement.
About a month later I was at the library and I came across a book entitled “Mud and Poetry.” I checked it out. Of course I did! I’m not overly enthusiastic about the book as a whole, but it really made me think.
It made me think about my philosophy. About my relationships. My family. About my work and my work family. It made me think about life. It made me think about mud and poetry.
This might be a good place to stop and let you know that, for me, faith has been a huge part of the way I view and understand my life (my relationships, my work, and, well, everything). It is a big part of how I view the mud in this world, and how I feel the poetry. Faith came into my life strangely and yet probably very commonly too. It came via relationships, pain, and through hearing and reading the bible. I can tell you the story in more detail over coffee sometime, but suffice to say there was a lot of mud and a lot of poetry involved.
Tyler Blanksi opens up his book with a quote from a poet I’d never heard of by the name Wilfred Owen. Wilfred lived and wrote and died, amongst a lot of other stuff too no doubt, between the years of 1893-1918 . He died at the age of 25 in France during the war. Here’s the quote – “I too saw God through mud – mud that cracked on cheeks when wretches smiled.” Don’t you just love that? I do. That line is from a poem called “Apologia pro Poemate Meo” which is thought to have been a rebuttal to a critique of his rather dark poetry. Whatever the reason, we can agree that he (Owen) is making a statement about God and about humanity in this messy, muddy state we find ourselves in.
You feel it too, right? In some ways, many ways maybe, we are in the pit together. Battling against the muddy pitfalls of life. And, at any given time we have a hand reaching up out of the pit and one reaching down into it. We need others. Others need us. We are mud and poetry.
My story is messy. Bet yours is too.
My story is poetic. And yours? It is too.
We are, as I’ve heard some say, “spiritual beings in physical bodies.” And, our bodies affect our spirits. This process we’re all in, this experiencing and witnessing of life, of all that happens – the good, the bad and all the in-between, this working out of the indescribable, is poetry. And mud. A cosmic, transcendent nature. The pit. The sky. Poetry and mud.
The way your favorite meal tastes. The pain of a paper cut. The ease of a good friendship. The sting of a betrayal. The comfort of a parent or grandparent’s care. The fatigue after a day of labor. The smell of rain and the way it reminds you of something…good. The glimpses we see now and the glory yet to be revealed.
Whenever you notice (or feel) life’s extremes pressing in, the love and the pain all mixed together, I hope you can remember our lives are more than what they seem. They are filled with Truth and Lies, Body and Spirit, Doubt and Faith, Mud and Poetry.
When I ponder these things and the many ways they have shown up in my life, I’m reminded of seasons like: my mother’s cancer diagnosis, surgery and treatments which ran right alongside a beautiful Northwestern summer where my sister and I spent time together working in a café as line cooks, helping my parents pack up and relinquish their “forever” home and driving across the permafrost hilly hiway of Alaska together, down the British Columbia coastline to a new place, a new life in Oregon. That’s one example, there are many. The past week or so is another. Amidst the chaos of the COVID-19 epidemic a few verses from Psalm 40 (also poetry, also mud) have come to mind. I’d like to share them with you because, for me, theses verses highlight those moments in life – the illuminating opposites that tether me to a greater hope and song:
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
In this season, I can be comforted because, in my faith, I have a firm place to stand even when it feels like all is mud and mire. I am encouraged to sing a new song, even if for a time, it is a song sung blue. It’s mud, it’s poetry, all wrapped up together.
Take care dear friends.