Posted in Poems/Poetry, Spiritual Practice, Terri Stewart

Sacred Space in Mental Illness

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.”

ghost town

From a Ghost Town in AZ
An Actual Ghost Town in AZ

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
player-piano silent
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
saving grace.

Terri Stewart, Dec. 2010

terrisignoffblog

Posted in Essay, Poems/Poetry, Spiritual Practice, Terri Stewart

Sacred Space Wherever You Can Name It

A while ago, I was volunteering as a Spiritual Director with incarcerated women. As it so happens, working with the incarcerated us not always straight forward. Some of the things that impact the incarcerated are less education, unstable family systems, increased drug & alcohol use, and untreated mental illness.

One woman I worked with came to me for Spiritual Direction, but she was schizophrenic. The things we worked at were finding a concrete symbol of something that she could name as Love but that did not have her “hearing voices” or “listening for divine within” or anything at all like that! After all, coming from a time in life when she actively did hear voices, that was not something she trusted!

We hit upon the image of her teddy bear. That teddy bear encapsulated pure love for her. It was concrete and it helped her feel loved. That symbolized the spot where she could find sacred space.

What about you? Is there something ordinary that represents sacred space? A teddy bear? Book? Chair? What provides sacred, healing space that nobody else would suspect?

For me, that sacred space is often represented in words. Maybe my computer holds the sacred space. It is a window to a world of great wisdom and the receiver of my angst and wonderings as I process feelings through writing. Hmmm.

for an incarcerated mentally ill client

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
player-piano silent
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
saving grace.

by "miracle design" at flickr.com CC (BY-ND)
by “miracle design”
at flickr.com
CC (BY-ND)

Post, Terri Stewart (c) 2014

Poem, Terri Stewart (c) 2010

terriTerri Stewart ~ a member of our Core Team,  comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction with honors and is a rare United Methodist student in the Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual.

Her online presence is “CloakedMonk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts (photography, mandala, poetry) and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at www.cloakedmonk.com,www.twitter.com/cloakedmonk, and www.facebook.com/cloakedmonk.  To reach her for conversation, send a note to cloakedmonk@outlook.com.
Posted in John Anstie, Peace & Justice, Poems/Poetry

Battle Horse

Lonely_by_Sylwiaa
[I’ve heard Ekphrasis* described as one of the ugliest words in the English language. In writing this poem, I would like to try and make it ironic]

In this, another war poem, at the same time I both celebrate and mourn the destiny of millions of horses in the front lines on World War 1. Here, I may talk about a strong stallion with great heritage from the same lines as pure bread battle horses that served knights of old before war became so mechanised.  The first world war was the turning point between the old and new ages of war, in which the military cavalry masters of the old order clashed with the new; and the result was an unmitigated armageddon, an unprecedented tragedy of slaughter in blood and mud … there is no undue irony in this great stallion’s story, insofar as it’s consequences, though its life is spared, its mental health is not, like so many human members of the armed forces who serve on or near to the front lines, who physically survive but who are consumed, through trauma, by some degree of mental illness.

Her gentle hand enwrapped his nose
and pulled it to her face.
Behind his nostril, where there is
the very softest place,
she kissed him tenderly and smelt
the scent of peerless blood
that coursed his veins and caused his mane
to tremble with a power
that came from generations of
highbred aristocracy.
This kind of power was visible,
it rippled like a lake
that caught a sudden gust of wind,
and shimmered, glistening.

He’d knightly strength for greater things
and so it proved to be.
A friend of friends, an officer,
had visited to see
and beamed at his magnificence
there was no doubt for him
that this beast was set to ride
for glorious history…

…until his inglorious return,
a sight that broke her heart.

His eyes had depth of understanding
she knew too well. Their look,
injected as they were with fear,
but not the normal kind
– the kind that came from healthy gallops
over his favourite fell.

No. This fear, its source was made …
(what she saw then choked her eyes)
… made from inner visions of
an unspeakable kind of hell;
mud-filled craters’ stench of death,
through endless shock of shell, but
unshakeable loyalty to his charge
despite his spirit’s knell.

In time the empty frame that stood
motionless in the field,
with timeless care she tended him,
though never fully healed
the scars that stiffened weary spirit
that caused him so much pain,
but filled with love and trust once more
the noble steed regained
a hint of what he used to feel:
excitement for the day,
security in his domain,
where once he held full sway;
desire that burned in his dark eyes
to lead her in his way
back to the stable where he’d sink
his nose in soft sweet hay.

– John Anstie

© 2012,2013 introduction and poem, John Anstie, All rights reserved
Illustration ~ Lonely by SylwiaS Digital Art / Photomanipulation / Surreal©2009-2013 SylwiaS

Ekphrasis or ecphrasis, from the Greek description of a work of art, possibly imaginary, produced as a rhetorical exercise, and is a graphic, often dramatic, description of a visual work of art.

John_in_Pose_Half_Face351bhS0cThKL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_JOHN ANSTIE (My Poetry Library and 42) ~ is a British poet and writer, a contributing editor here at Bardo, and multi-talented gentleman self-described as a “Family man, Grandfather, Occasional Musician, Amateur photographer and Film-maker, Apple-MAC user, Implementation Manager, and Engineer.  John participates in d’Verse Poet’s Pub and is a player in New World Creative Union. He’s been blogging since the beginning of 2011. John is also an active member of The Poetry Society (UK).

product_thumbnail-2.phpJohn has been involved in the recent publication of two anthologies that are the result of online collaborations among two international groups of amateur and professional poets. One of these is The Grass Roots Poetry Group, for which he produced and edited their anthology, “Petrichor* Rising. The other group is d’Verse Poet Pub, in which John’s poetry also appears The d’Verse Anthology: Voices of Contemporary World Poetry, produced and edited by Frank Watson.

Petrichor – from the Greek pɛtrɨkər, the scent of rain on the dry earth.