I’m not a poet, but a number people in my life are. When Rev. Jim Burklo sent out his latest “musing” and the title used the word “service” and the post included a look at poetry, it sparked my interest. As a shopkeeper, I got a kick out of the way he describes two different types of salespeople, feeling good that I was the first you’ll encounter rather than the second. Then, the idea that he shares about poetry being a form of service, as a gift to others, or to the cosmos, stopped me in my tracks. I’d always thought of poetry being a gift to one’s self, first. A way of capturing some joy or angst and putting it down on paper to keep. Yet the poets in my life do like to share their poetry, often packaging it in beautifully bound parcels and handing it to me as they might share the sacraments of communion. So I gift you Jim’s musing and hope that it might stop you for a moment too, and perhaps comment.
Musings by Jim Burklo
www.tcpc.blogs.com/musings for current and previous articles
You know the difference.
You go to a clothing store and visit the shoe department. The sales person greets you warmly and asks how she can help you. She brings you the shoes you want to try on, patiently shuttling between your seat and the back storage room as you go through several pairs, none of which is quite right. Gently she asks if you have any special needs or preferences. You are torn between shoes that are comfy and shoes that are attractive, not yet finding a balance between the two. “Take your time, try on all you like,” she says, making suggestions about shoes to check out, but without being adamant or pushy. Finally, you find a pair that might work. “What do you like about them?” she asks. You answer, and decide to buy them. With warm smiles and thanks to each other after she rings up the purchase, you leave with your new shoes to go upstairs to the clothing racks.
There you are inspecting pairs of pants when a sales person approaches you and hustles you over to a different rack. He pulls out a pair of pants and extols their virtues and price and urges you to try them on. Talking fast, he leads you to yet another rack and pulls out another pair, which he says are also perfect for you. He rushes you over to the fitting rooms and ushers you into one of them. The pants look okay, but you feel like you have not been given the time and space to browse at more options.
Sometimes people think they are being of service, but they are so lost in their own presumptions about you, and what they think you need, that they lose sight of your otherness. They project their own desires and values onto the people they aim to help, and as a result, they disappoint or disempower them.
But when someone really comprehends that you are someone else, and humbly seeks to know your otherness, this “selfless” attitude can enable them to be especially helpful, both practically and spiritually.
One path to selflessness is to read and write poetry.
A poem is a receipt to God, or the universe, for a precious experience. The experience comes as a gift, and the poem is the grateful response. It is inspired by something or someone other. It points to a reality in the other that is beyond the poet’s full grasp. The poet gives the poem to an other, whether it is a reader or to the heart of the cosmos. Through the poem, the reader is drawn out of the ego and into the experience of the gift and the giver.
Among my favorite poets is Antonio Machado, who wrote in the early 20th century, and is very beloved still in his homeland of Spain. His “proverbs”, such as these, are receipts for his experience of the nature of poetry itself:
It is not the fundamental “I” that the poet seeks, but the essential “you”.
The eye you see is not an eye because you see it.
It is an eye because it sees you.
Poetry is an exercise in honoring the deep otherness of everything and everybody. It gets me out of the way, so I can begin to understand more of the nature and needs of others. The breathtaking linguistic leaps of poetry provide aerobic training to prepare me for service.
Website: JIMBURKLO.COM Weblog: MUSINGS Follow me on twitter: @jtburklo
BIRDLIKE AND BARNLESS: Meditations, Prayers, and Songs for Progressive Christians – my latest book – at www.amazon.com
Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California