A while ago, I was a Spiritual Director at a women’s prison. While I was there, one of my clients had a mental illness. Entering into Spiritual Direction was interesting because it challenged me to think about G*d in ways I had never thought of. Here, I had a client who was clearly seeking “something more” but was afraid of “voices” in her head. Huh. In traditional language about the divine, I often speak of a “call” or a “nudge” or “voice” that comes from elsewhere. Now that elsewhere can be internally or externally, but it is still quite separate from the logical thought processes of my mind. The question became, what do I do if I am afraid of trusting any voice other than the logical thought process? How do I imagine the divine?
The product of my imaginings were twofold. My imaginings produced a poem called “ghost town” that is an exploration of what it means to be a seeker with a mental illness. This led to the realization that the only trustworthy things were concrete, visible, and available. And this is okay. It too, is sacred space.
And so I offer to you, “ghost town.”
small, still voice of wind,
tossing my tumbleweed-thoughts
that roll through a ghost town.
here, my safety has been
abandoned to the rats and mice
that hide from revelation,
distrusting that light
so much that they will not stay
and visit. the locks and guns
have been jammed by mud-caked
memories of injustice,
in the sheriff’s office.
the hollow-hallow notes of the
except for the collapsing
frame that drops pieces of itself
crashing onto the discordant keys,
creating a nightmare sound of
happiness twisted into grief,
twisted into a mockery of joy,
in the saloon.
the telegraph does not speak
into the future, the wires
have frayed and disconnected
from the source of consolation,
reality has dissolved letters of love
or news of the war and the
beloved sears & roebuck catalog,
in the post-office.
the ghost town disgusts me.
especially when the wind is
blowing and changing all that
i know into something unknown
ripping the roof apart and causing
the cacophony of noises to come
in from all directions telling
me, what? untrustworthy voice!
so small and still or
so big and booming
telling me to tear the walls apart
bare-handed until my fingers
become bloody stubs and
yet you insist that i see you,
listen to you, the wind destroying
the small community of barn owls
and bats that i have built in my
ghost town. i do not want to hear
you. the owls and bats are my
Terri Stewart, Dec. 2010
One thought on “Sacred Space in Mental Illness”
Wonderful post and poem, Terri. Living in NV with its many ghost towns I’ve always found them so intriguing. Now I have a new way of looking at them.