Sunday, September 6, 2009

What you drag around

Earlier this morning I wrote: "Even if I were to shred, burn, or dump these journals, if I haven't made peace with the person in them, the person who wrote them, whose agonies, miseries, neuroses and phobias, and, I might add, creativity and cleverness, brilliances and breakthroughs, appear in them again and again, I will still be dragging them around. I won't be free."

That talk of dragging things reminds me of a poem, two poems, really, that I wrote a few years back. In the spring of 2006, to be exact. At the time I was working for a local non-profit whose niche was the intersection of "green electricity" and trying to activate churches and other faith communities to combat global warming.

I was really a lot more interested in the green electricity part that the faith community part, and if I'd been fully honest about that from the start, I would never have taken this supposedly "perfect for me, no-brainer" job. But since I was ordained and had a passionate interest in the natural world and in fighting climate change, I looked like just the right kind of person (which is different from being just the right person) to be reaching out to religious folks about climate change and caring for the earth.

But since I wasn't being fully honest with myself, or at least had let the need for income and fears of financial ruin influence my decision, nearly every moment of every day of that job found me at war with myself. It was exhausting.

From time to time during those months I told myself and my intimate circle that if I still wanted to be ordained and to be functioning as an ordained person, using the influence and the "authority" of being a professional God person, I would have stayed where I was, in the deeply familiar, well-loved congregation where David and I had been co-rectors for nearly fifteen years and which we had left only two or three months before. (In fact, looking back and realizing I was then only two or three months down the road from that move, I'm sure I was still deep in grief, not a good time to think clearly about anything. And the grief from that move was pretty messy and complicated, too. But that is definitely another story.)

One of the things I never really liked about being ordained and never felt I managed to deal with very well was the way people project so many of their needs, wants, desires, and religious fantasies onto just about any "professional religious person," especially the ones closest to home, the ones most easily targeted as substitute parental unit of the psyche, or something like that. It's not that people do this consciously or intentionally most of the time. But that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. (One clergywoman colleague I know speaks of "the big tit" phenomenon--which is perhaps more about people wanting to feed off of you, suck you and your soul dry rather than be responsible for their own souls, than it is about projections. But they often go together.)

It's not just that the symbolic role felt too heavy and burdensome to me; it's more that I often felt it threatened to obliterate me. To suffocate me, strangle me (that damn collar! I swear it came to feel smaller and tighter every time I put it on!)--the real me, the me that was, to quote Monty Python, "not dead yet" but was perhaps almost ready to be heaped on the pile of corpses. To be numbered among the multitudes of the half-dead and the nearly-dead, those whose best indicator of still being alive was the pain of quiet desperation.

On a regular basis during my tenure in that job, especially right after board meetings (funny, that sounds so much like "bored meetings"), I would feel the immense weight of such projections again. I would cringe at what I thought (it could have been just me, of course) the intense, nearly desperate dreams of some members of the board that I as their ordained staff member would have the right words, the perfect biblical know-how, maybe some special connection to God, and je ne sais quoi d'autre to recruit hordes of enthusiastic church-goers to the cause.

And each time I would react internally with my own equally desperate wish to escape, to toss whatever I was fielding right back at them, and to head for the door, shouting, "I'm done! No more! I want out!" But being an adult professional, more or less, I behaved with proper public decorum and ended up tied in knots inside.

In just such a state the first line of a poem presented itself to me and wouldn't go away until I acknowledged it and conversed with it awhile.

"I am dragging around a ball and chain called God." It was so clear, it was pretty hard to ignore. Here's the poem that evolved from it.

Ball and Chain

I am dragging around
a ball and chain called God,
shackled to my right ankle,
thudding down the stairs behind me,
banging at my heels,
slowing me down when I try
to run.

No matter what I do
I can't get rid of it. 
People keep shackling
the dead-weight ball of God
back onto me. I don't want to keep
lugging their God. I'd rather be
godless, unburdened,

Terrible, lonely, leadball God,
hand me a hacksaw
and I'll cut you loose,
let you go,
risk moving on
alone, without

It's time to start over--
to know what I know
and feel what I feel
from earth and skin,
blood and bone,
blossom and leaf bloom.

I'd like to think we can part
on good terms, you and I.
Godspeed, I say.
We'll both be better off
this way.


  1. Wow, I guess I had never read this post before, but I really love the poem.

  2. Thanks there, Bekah! I've been thinking about this poem recently because it almost feels that by "cutting God loose" I've arrived back around to some sort of vague new understanding of what I might mean by "God" if I were to use the word from time to time. Not totally sure though! xo