Friday, February 12, 2016

A BOX OF HUMILITY

I’ve often refused to give out copies of sermons that people request when one I’ve preached pleases their ear, mostly because I think that a sermon is more effective audibly delivered, but sometimes people hear a story and ask for a hard copy of it. Ash Wednesday I talked about pride and its effects and how Lent was a meet time to do a little self-examination, pray for, and practice humility, and several people expressed interest in a printed version of a story within the sermon. Here’s the story:

“Almost twenty years ago, I was director of Solomon House, an outreach mission at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in New Iberia, Louisiana, and a woman came to me on a day we didn’t usually give out money for emergency assistance. She had visited us often, many times going into the sheds behind Solomon House that held clothing for rummage sales…to get clothes for her sick husband she always said. The woman made the request so many times and carted away such quantities of clothing that I thought her husband was either the best-dressed man in a small community down the road from New Iberia, or she was collecting clothes for her own backyard sales. In my arrogance, I presumed to know what her real needs were.

The morning she came to me, I began, rather impatiently, to explain why I couldn’t help her. When I finally shut up, having used up all the reasons, justifications, and explanations I could summon to mind for not helping her, she just looked at me and asked if she could come into my office. I said “yes,” but I was suspicious.

The woman held a small cardboard box with a lid on it that she brought into the office with her. “I don’t want money or clothing,” she said. “I just want you to help me with some closure about my husband. These are his ashes.” She pointed to the box she had plunked down on my desk. “And you’re a good person, so please bless them.” She began to lift the lid, but I motioned for her to leave it on.

As minister of an outreach mission, I had to be prepared for most anything, but this request was a first. I can’t tell you how small I felt. Most Episcopalians say that when all else fails, consult the Book of Common Prayer, so I picked up the BCP lying on my desk, flipped the pages until I found the Committal in the burial service and read it aloud, then embraced the woman, who was, by now, crying softly.

As I ushered her out, a friend who had accompanied her said: “She has been riding around since daybreak waiting for you to open Solomon House to do that blessing.” The women got into a car and sped off, sans clothing, sans emergency assistance, leaving me with my presumptuousness and my former judgments about who the woman with the ashes really was. And she, of course, had been the face of Christ.

Most of us have met at least one person who holds up a mirror for us to see the real Self. Thank God. This Ash Wednesday we confront with humility the fact that we don’t possess super-powered lenses to see into the soul of others, and we’re forced to let go of our presumptuousness, to allow faith and trust to take over.”


That’s not the complete sermon, but it’s a starter for going into the desert of Lent, to enter this time of self-emptying. As the Scot preacher George MacDonald once said: the love of our neighbor is the only door out of the dungeon of Self — nothing else added, nothing else needed.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

LOUISIANA WOMEN: Their Lives and Times

In the mail this week, a gift arrived from good friend, Dr. Mary Ann Wilson: the second volume of Louisiana Women, a book that records the contributions of outstanding Louisiana women from the eighteenth century to the present. Essays by southern scholars include the history of women who struggled to not only sustain their sense of self-worth but to “follow their bliss” in art, politics, and cultural pursuits. Edited by Mary Farmer Kaiser and Shannon Frystak, the volume covers four major aspects of Louisiana women’s history that have affected the cultural, social, and political progress of the bayou state: Women and the Politics of Identity; Women and Work; Women and the Arts; and Organizing Women.

Louisiana Women is one of those bedside table books that provides a look into rich histories that have often been overlooked or hidden, such as the profiles of Lulu White, infamous Storyville madam, and voodooienne Marie Laveau, as well as well-researched essays about famous female artists, writers, musicians, and supporters of the arts.

I was particularly interested in the essay about Cammie Henry, a supporter of the arts in Louisiana, a woman who intrigued me and about whom I wrote in my own version of outstanding Louisiana women, Their Adventurous Will. I was grateful to Lucy Gutman and Shannon Frystak, authors of this essay, for citing “The Mistress of Melrose,” my essay about Henry, and I learned new information through the authors’ insights about Henry being an embodiment of the Lost Cause movement in a region that sought to recapture a lost heritage. She is described as being a woman who “used the leverage of a revered cultural movement that celebrated the Confederate tradition to emancipate herself from the restrictions of a gender-prescribed position, while simultaneously sustaining and expanding her status as a revered traditional southern lady.”

In the essay entitled “The Evolution of a Plantation Mistress and Chatelaine of the Arts,” the authors credit Cammie Henry with the revival of native crafts, for hosting writers, artists, and photographers through the Natchitoches Art Colony and for preserving the history and heritage of the Cane River and the Isle Brevelle Creoles of color. Among the notables who sometimes lived and worked at Melrose: William Spratling, a Tulane University professor of architecture; artists Alberta Kinsey and playwright Natalie Scott; Lyle Saxon, an author Henry described as “magnificent and knit into my soul;” authors Sherwood Anderson, Harnett Kane, and Francoise Mignon…the list of luminaries who visited or lived at Melrose at various times is formidable.

Dr. Wilson’s essay about contemporary writer, Rebecca Wells, entitled “The Divine Saga Deep in the Heart of Louisiana,” takes the reader deep into central Louisiana territory, delving into the life of the author of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, a novel which Wilson relates created a “powerful sisterhood that replicated itself across the country…the author herself identifying the hunger for sisterhood and community as the driving force behind the book’s rise to prominence.” Interestingly, Wilson defines the theme of this book as forgiveness, quoting from the theologian Henri Nouwen: “Forgiveness is the nature of love practiced among people who love poorly. That hard truth is that all of us love poorly. We need to forgive and to be forgiven every day, every hour – unceasingly…”  I was intrigued by Wilson’s comment about Wells’ recognition of the idea of sisterhood or women’s communities as a “necessary antidote to our depersonalized, isolated postmodern condition.” She highlights Wells’ articulation of this idea of female bonding in The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood: “I didn’t write the book because I had a group of friends like the Ya-Yas. I think I wrote it because I wanted one.” In this essay about Wells Dr. Wilson conveys the idea that Wells has accomplished in her contemporary writing what many outstanding writers accomplish – “she has [begun] with the regional (central Louisiana) and made it speak to and for a larger humanity.”

Lucinda Williams, the colorful Lake Charles Louisiana musician; Lindy Boggs, congresswoman and majority leader of the House; Cora Allen, member of the Calanthe Temple Commission; Sarah Towles Reed, labor union lobbyist, and educational reformer…the stories in Louisiana Women reveal the perspectives of eighteen scholars who have documented the activities of women who exemplified the courage and faith to pursue seemingly impossible projects and contributed to the history and culture of Louisiana.

I wish that I could highlight all the essays but perhaps this is a small titillation to read the profound stories in this volume featured in a series about Southern Women: Their Lives and Times, which includes many of the southern states, published by the University of Georgia Press.


Brava, Mary Ann!  

    




Monday, February 8, 2016

STREET SKETCHES

When a writer/poet commissions Karen Bourque to illustrate the theme of a book by creating a new glasswork, Karen responds by bringing all of her intuitive gifts to the project, and the resulting cover for the book is a masterpiece.  I know because she has rendered glasswork pieces that I’ve photographed for the covers of four of my books of poetry. Karen, who works in a studio behind her home in Church Point, Louisiana, not only creates the glass piece, she always writes an accompanying text that explains the symbolism of the stones and other objects contained within the artwork. I’ve begun to include a Note By the Artist in the books for which she creates covers, and I feel they enhance the themes represented in the poetry.

In a few weeks, Street Sketches, perhaps the only book of poetry that I’ll produce this year, will be published, and for this volume, Karen created a brilliant glass piece entitled “Lumina.” Karen says that this piece is entitled “Lumina” because it is compositionally and metaphorically about light, and “each source is a beginning point for further contemplation, a possible departure point in a meditation
on light: a red light as a signal to stop, look and listen to what is happening on or in street lives in cities and towns across the globe that often go unnoticed…the moon, a yellow jasper cabochon, a stone of endurance, perseverance, and tenacity…attracts others for friendship or to help with a goal…a street lamp, an agate cabochon which is a stone of strength and removes and releases energies of resentment and bitterness…a final source of light in the work emanating from the steeple of a church at the end of the street with a small cruciform encased in paler glass surrounding it. The steeple, the cross and the surrounding light suggest the power of spirituality or connection to a higher power…”

Each time I obtain the glasswork of this talented artist, Vickie Sullivan and I enjoy a visit with Karen and Darrell Bourque, her poet husband (former poet laureate of Louisiana) and we’re immersed in visual and verbal art for at least three hours. Each time before I visit, I say that I’m not going to write any more books, and each time I leave the habitat of these two inspirational artists, I return home, pondering a theme for another book…

Border Press describes Street Sketches in the following blurb:

“Alleyway, cobblestone, asphalt or concrete, streets are shared by all types of people who engage in diverse interactions; they are places of commerce or are residential in nature where aggregates of cultures gather. In Street Sketches, Moore captures the atmosphere and people who traverse streets that she has lived on or visited… from the busy streets of Ahwaz, Iran where she lived and observed beggar street people spreading their household goods on an Oriental rug and using it for a residence… to the elegant boulevards of Paris, Munich, and New York City, places where contrasting life in an urban environment takes place. She also probes the “Thoroughfares of the Mind,” “troubled roads winding among weeds/beside the ruffled waters of old lakes/and back alleys inside the brain. /Scandals and undisguised tragedies/mingling in closets of paranoia.” The concluding poem, “All Roads Lead to Home” reflects on her homesickness for streets everywhere she has lived and visited, lamenting that she “would probably spend a lifetime sitting at a window overlooking the streets of all those places, sketching what I viewed with words that express languishing nostalgia…”

Street Sketches will be available on amazon.com or can be ordered by writing to Border Press at borderpress@gmail.com or P.O. Box 3124, Sewanee, TN 37375.