As one who believes in equality for all men and women (but knowing that opportunity does not present itself equally for all), I embrace Walt Whitman’s imperative of equality in “Song of Myself”. Any disparaging mumbles or mind mutters I’ve ever made in his direction I rescind.
He speaks about a prostitute: “The prostitute draggles her shawl, her bonnet bobs on her / tipsy and pimpled neck, / The crowd laugh at her blackguard oaths, the men jeer and / wink at each other, / Miserable! I do not laugh at your oaths nor jeer you,)”
Imagine another scene: fishermen stand in their boat, nets empty and faces despondent. Along comes the Rabbi telling them to throw the nets back into the water, to trust that they will produce a good return this time. They yank them up onto the deck with a great tug. Fish flop and fill the nets in such a multitude that their faces appear sunlit in the dusk of day. But instead of the fishermen taking the fish to market and reaping the great financial reward of their catch, the Rabbi tells them to leave their nets and follow him.
Two words: “Follow me.”
I have encountered these two words many times in my life and they always require an answer. With the answer always comes a cost. In high school, they turned my life in another direction of wanting to embrace the disenfranchised and not overlook the oppressed. They took me to a slum in Honduras and then many years later to a slum in India. In both places, I learned so much about the love and joy made possible in the simplicity of poverty. They brought me out to California almost 10 years ago to pursue a greater knowledge of understanding God and really teaching me how to ask better questions rather than receiving pat answers I anticipated. They have shown me what it is to have more than you could have ever hoped for and turn around, giving it away with a joyful spirit and heart. They took me to France last year unleashing my voice in song. Little did I know that “Follow me” would lead to the unlikely place of an intense pursuit of poetry.
Another way to categorize last year is that I became a dry branch. Feeding on the waters of poetry has furthered the depths of my own work. I can see it and am overcome with gratefulness for the growth that is happening. But in a conversation of faith and art, my art started taking pre-eminence over faith. I have become engrossed lately in some great dialogues on faith and art with Olga. As an opera singer, she and I have discussed and agree strongly on the need for the artist to be open. Openness allows a great influx of ideas to collide and create something new. For her, as she interprets characters she has to consider their mannerisms, their quirks. In my poetry, I want to speak to and embrace humanity. Walt and I share that in common. I want my poems to be like a grand dining table filled with platters of delectable food, where there is something palatable for everyone. And not compromise vision or voice in favor of the pleasing.
Instead of allowing faith and art to coalesce, I began abandoning the one over the other. And I firmly believe that they can be in conversation with one another in a way that is thoughtful, unsentimental and provocative.
What I appreciate about following God through Jesus is that it requires thought and action mingled together. The depths to be plumbed are vast indeed and this mystery of following a God who is so other and so unknowable in the midst of knowing compels me onward. My good friend L. says I am the most Hindu Latin American she has ever met and this is such a complete compliment. I follow a Person / God who I want to transform me more into a fuller human being. The words given in the Bible are dynamic and always hold something new for my eyes if they will be open to see and my ears if they will be open to hear. The Rabbi / teacher / guru informs my innermost being. He teaches me to be contrary to myself and love my enemy. He teaches me I am not God (nor would I want to be). I learn love through reading of His example and generosity through the multiplied food He endows upon the masses. Most importantly, I want to be like Him. That’s really what I guess this faith comes down to for me. And being like Him means also being excellent in the gifts I possess.
“Follow me” right now looks like weaving through a myriad of images and scenes painted by Walt’s generous strokes, where he admonishes,
“Long have you timidly waded, holding a plank by the shore, / Now I will you to be a bold swimmer, / To jump off in the midst of the sea, and rise again and nod / to me and shout”.