Photo: Olga Serjantu on Unsplash.
There was a first time to speak publicly even for Jesus, a first time to demand attention and claim authority. Yesterday’s testimony from the Gospel of Mark related that story, in which Jesus teaches in the synagogue and drives out an “unclean spirit.” Onlookers were amazed—by what, really, I wonder? Was it a supernatural intervention that drove out the spirit, or was it Jesus’s audacity in that moment—not merely authority but authorship?
Micah was preaching on theopoetics yesterday, and not for the first time—not even the first time he preached about it and I noted the occasion. But it was fresh for me nonetheless. Eight months into motherhood and nearly eleven months into the pandemic, I find myself professionally and creatively rudderless, obviously with plenty of energy to give but deeply lacking in direction. When I care for the baby, I try to practice a certain amount of loving nonattachment, as paradoxical as that sounds—I need to get out of her way sometimes, literally and metaphorically. She is on her own journey, and I tell her often that as long as she is honest and kind, she can be whoever and whatever she needs to be, and I will be proud of her. I figure that I can start practicing that nonattachment now, which is sometimes harder than it looks. She took a tough fall at one point today, as she does with increasing frequency while practicing standing and walking, and I dearly wanted to just hold her for a while and encourage her to cuddle a plushie and read a book or two. But she doesn’t like to stay still for long, and although she tolerated The Very Hungry Caterpillar, she made it clear that she was ready to be on the move again as soon as we were finished. And I had to watch her pull herself up on her Pikler triangle yet again, and prepare for her to tumble yet again, and accept that she is on her own journey. This nonattachment leaves me with further paradoxes: I spend most of my days guiding and nurturing a child who will be her own creation; I have so much energy, so much will, but so little authority, or authorship.
Theopoetics is forward-looking, not imposing order on a God who has done but working hand-in-hand with a God who is doing. In the story from Mark, Jesus is doing, making something new—driving out the unclean spirit so the man could start creating a new reality. We heard that new reality from the community ministers with their artistic offerings, from Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell with songs that will live beyond their creators’ lifespans. Authorship is what gives authority in all of those stories: not position or force, not power or money, but generativity and forward motion.
And I wondered what I’m supposed to be doing, how I can act with any authority in the coming days. I need greater accountability to fewer people. I believe in my writing and the power that continuing to share my writing could have, but the trappings of the literary world look deeply unappealing. I still care about improving kids’ experiences in schools, but my sphere of influence is more like a sliver these days. And there is my child, who even at eight months old will resolutely make choices with which I disagree and with which I have to live even while I am in every way wholly responsible for her well-being.
The only answer is to do something, I suppose. Jesus had no formal authority in the temple that day, but his willingness to speak up, to claim authorship gave him the authority to cast out the unclean spirit, and the people noticed. In doing so he and the people who followed him co-created a new reality, one with which we are continuing to grapple, some days better than others.
This is an unsatisfying answer. I want someone to tell me what to do. But theopoetics doesn’t give orders. Theopoetics says that nothing will change unless someone starts speaking, and that the speaking, the authorship gives them authority. Theopoetics says that I already have all the authority I need.
I want to leave it there. I want to end this post with that bold declaration. But I want to be clear: the bravado would be false. In these cold, dark days, I struggle to find my authorship. I’m going to keep trying, but I’m going to continue to watch myself stumble and wail like the baby learning to walk. I’m going to have to believe in the authority of the stumbling and the wailing. Maybe theopoetics says that the stumbling is all there is.