Last night, I found one of the journals I kept while I was in Mexico a dozen years ago. I scarcely recognize the girl who scribbled in purple pen: so young, so self-absorbed, so awash in questions of identity and faith and love. It was the last summer Ben was drinking; the last summer I was uncovenanted to a husband and circumspect about Christianity. It is dizzying to think of everything that happened shortly after the end of that tumultuous summer - Ben got sober, the World Trade Center was attacked, I sent in my seminary applications, and we were engaged before Christmas.
And, because I had committed to writing poetry about my summer in Mexico for my Senior Honors Thesis, by the spring I'd written a manuscript of poems. Most of them make me cringe; they are just as tiresome as my journals, yet these were intended for public consumption. I read them to friends and defended them before my thesis committee in the library of the Wick Poetry Center. It's only when I think about the graciousness and the encouragement of those friends and mentors that I can summon the strength to be more gentle to myself about it. They were so kind to me. Even if they saw the immaturity and self-importance and just plain bad poetry of that manuscript, they found ways to honor who I was and what I did. The least I can do is honor who I was and what I did, too.
I skimmed the manuscript this morning. One poem in particular stands out, not because it is especially better than the others, but because it so accurately captured the push and pull of my ambivalent, doubt-ridden faith at the time. (It's ever-so-slightly edited because, well, a poem is never done, not even twelve years later.)
La Luchadora/ The Wrestling Girl
At the last moment
I didn't pack the Book of Common Prayer.
It's a heavy hardback
and I've never been faithful
to the Daily Office.
I didn't pack my bible either.
It's heavy and hardbacked as well;
the weight of Paul's letters threatened
to burden my back this summer.
My faith dangled without these books,
passive as the pewter cross at my collarbone.
I found the Church of St. Michael & All Angels
in the English-language newspaper.
It was the morning of the sixteenth Psalm
and the ninth chapter of Luke.
I was hungry for the Eucharist,
nearly as giddy as when I was a kid.
Back then the homemade bread
and red grape juice buoyed my theology.
The wafers of this church
were bland, the wine uninspiring.
My heart transubstantiates.
Father William offered me a bible after the service.
He promised that my donation would benefit
the Mexican Bible Society. I read all of Romans
that night, contending again with Paul
as Jacob wrestled with the angel.
In San Miguel de Allende,
I made the cross-town pilgrimage
to another Eucharist, Rite I.
The Spanish prayer books captivated me:
does El Señor resonate
with the same feudal reverence
as “The Lord?”
Padre Manuel Sonora was the celebrant.
He implored us to be Christ-like
in a gentle Spanish accent. “Be nice,” he said.
I've always wanted it to be so simple: Love Christ, be nice.
In the prayers we asked God
for gladness and singleness of heart
so that we can love and serve. In every congregation
I've prayed with, our voices crest in unison
while reading that dear request.
A holy murmuring remained in me
when I hitched a ride back to the zócalo
with an expatriate from the third row.
I walked through the city streets in unrest,
torn between the blessing and the fight.