"Autumn Morning: when the wind carries away the silent candles of the Psalms:
I sit, and then I walk, into the curiosity of leaves underfoot and prayers left unsaid..."
Two lines from my most recent poem, "The Invitation of Autumn", have provoked in me an ongoing rumination on the "writer's life": a curious blend of marriage and monasticism... The writer reads and writes: but more, the writer allows for the rooting of word in the core of her being: germination must take place to effect a transfer of word to reader... so too, in monasticism and marriage both, the condition of "time" is essential: every rooting occurs in secret, in the dark, and in the silence...
The monk reads that which is proclaimed to be the Word of God: and waits... and waits... He shows up for his appointed tasks, such as chopping potatoes or washing dishes: he works in remembrance of the Word... Just the same, in marriage, a partner kisses a partner and holds the partner dear in every possible embrace... and still, there is always a waiting... for it is impossible to remain in an "isolation of two" for any great length of time: work calls (living calls): but that work, whatever it is, never leaves behind the remembrance of the Word of Love that is their Home... Monasticism and marriage both seek to "enlighten" the "neutral zone" of daily life with a means for accessing "Home": the place of one's possibilities for bliss...
A writer's life is the provocation of "homelessness": the spirituality, if you will, of a certain "precarious emptiness" so as to access the "human condition" of life between the poles of bliss and suffering: every marriage, as in monasticism, is the radical acceptance of the cultivation of practices that might place one in the proximity of wisdom, grace, happiness, and truth be told, of bliss... the hinge upon which this door swings is remembrance: the Word is every word: when there is no difference between the two, there is Home... The secret competition of marriage and monastic alike is the remembrance of kindness: doing and being are one in the everyday of kindness... The "homelessness" of the writer is the understanding that for each one of us, there is a certain pendulum swing between happiness and suffering -- and for a very great many of us, there is mostly suffering... Is this why the Word the Christian knows as the Christ said, "I was hungry and you fed me" (or not), and "Whatever you do to the least human among you, you do the same to me"?
Reading the writings of John Steinbeck, of Robinson Jeffers, of Jack Kerouac, of Walt Whitman, of Malcolm X, of Dorothy Day, of Fyodor Dostoevsky, of Alice Walker, of Kathleen Norris (of course, from among many others) is a sort of "baptism of fire": the fire of the human condition: life fluctuating between the poles of bliss and agony: now one and now the other... The writer, whether married or monk or any other "possibility", is the exploration of all that it means to be alive... The writer doesn't write: whether through direct experience or direct imagination, the writer bleeds soul upon paper or keyboard...
Listen: "And the rain pattered relentlessly down, and the streams broke their banks and spread over the country... Huddled under sheds, lying in wet hay, the hunger and the fear bred anger. Then boys went out, not to beg, but to steal; and men went out weakly, to try to steal." (Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath). Here's Dorothy Day describing one moment in a House of Hospitality: "I had to deny this woman a bed, and when she asked me to kiss her I did, and it was a loathsome thing, the way she did it. It was scarcely a mark of normal human affection." And, finally, here's Olav H. Hauge, "I stand here, do you understand. I stood here last year too, do you understand... I stand when I eat too, I do that, do you understand. And throw the plates at the wall."
The writer's life is the final emptiness of words and the emptiness of waiting: and the stillbirth of rejection... and still the waiting... and then, once more, the inevitable pregnancy of another Sacred Word: with the trepidation of bliss, finding its place upon a page: and the writer, if lucky, finding a place in someone's -- anyone's -- heart...
Robert Daniel Smith was privileged to serve the homeless and marginalized for 30 years in Salinas, California. Together with his wife, Michelle, they founded an intentional community called the 'Companions of the Way', also in Salinas. Robert and Michelle are community organizers, Catholic Worker renegades, sacred activists, writers, poets, artists, Divine Mother devotees, and practitioners of Kriya Yoga as taught by Rev. Ellen Grace O'Brian of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment. Michelle is also a Montessori public school teacher.