Why We Can’t Look Away

The morning I learned about the women in Cleveland, I knew from a single headline that there was more to be said, and horrified by, than I wanted to know: Cleveland Women Rescued From Ten Years’ Imprisonment in Captor’s Home.

As the news poured in, the photos of balloons flapping from Amanda Berry’s porch and family members doubled over in relief, the weight in my stomach got heavier. And despite my attempts, I could not turn myself away from the latest details of their captivity, the grim facts of what took place in the silence of those ten years.

The inability to look away – the paralysis of gruesome, awful news – is something that we all know. We do our best to protect ourselves from stories that draw us in without any relief, accounts of loss or pain that disarm and puncture the illusions we hold about the world being safe, or our days being predictable. [Read more...]

Partaking and Passing On: The Work of Luci Shaw

The world is
not with us—enough.
O taste and see.

–Denise Levertov, “Taste and See”

It may seem incongruous to speak about a poet by introducing the work of another poet—in this case, Luci Shaw via Denise Levertov. But many factors make this epigraph fitting of Luci’s work, vision, and character, the most immediate reason being that Luci is the recipient of the tenth annual Denise Levertov Award, an annual literary award given by Image Journal, Seattle Pacific University, and the SPU MFA program in creative writing.

If it weren’t for Luci’s work and vision, it could be said the MFA program that shaped and spurred me wouldn’t exist. And if it weren’t for Luci’s character—generous and lovingly, stubbornly brilliant—many poets and writers who wrestle with Christian faith would not have the room to explore language and belief on equal terms. [Read more...]

She Will Not Live a Small Life

And all were guests.

—Naomi Shihab Nye, “Arabic Coffee”

The first thing that struck me about Moneerh was how much she terrified me: her face half-cloaked by her hijab, her dark eyes narrowed at me as I shuffled books, rushed through the steps of the lesson.

“Teacher, please slow down,” she said, her voice muffled, yet insistent. “Please.”

At the ESL center I help direct, most of our students are from the Middle East. They come on scholarships, looking to improve their English before they apply to American universities. Sisters are escorted to class by brothers and male cousins. Wives, many of them less than twenty years old, bring their husbands into my office to discuss failing grades, their eyes downcast while the husband shakes a report card at me, demanding that I “do something.” [Read more...]

Seeking and Sought by God

I did not enter a church until I was in third grade. My friend Vicky, who always wore long jean skirts and seemed to be liked by everybody, invited me to a Sunday school competition where she would be quizzed on Bible verses.

I remember dirt-colored shag carpet, wooden pews, a crowd of stern-looking women gathered around a microphone, their khaki skirts brushing their Keds. I remember Vicky standing beside them, unsure of how to phrase the lines of Psalm 23—was it a rod? A staff?

And I remember running up to the microphone myself, eager to talk, completely clueless about the Psalm. “It’s rod! It’s rod!” I said, unaware that my jeans and my loud voice were twisting the women’s frowns into tighter knots.

“That is incorrect,” one said. “Please sit down.” [Read more...]

The Way of a Pilgrim

When it comes to music, I am a lover of routine. My iTunes playlists are at least 2 years old, I haven’t bought a new album in months, and if you looked at the number of plays my Neko Case “Live at Austin City Limits” album has, you’d see that I’ve listened to it hundreds of times.

But it’s not only music that bears my signature love of repetition. Most days, I would rather read a cookbook than pick up a new novel. I return to the same poems, the same pages of Gilead, and the same Neko Case record; and if my husband wants to watch something other than another episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, I’ll quickly get on Facebook and let him watch alone.

My father once told me that I was his “cautious” daughter: that I made sure of things before I tried them out, that I was the only child of his who actually looked both ways before crossing the street. That surety came before chance. [Read more...]