“The Tao of Christ” [poem, clouds, and intriguing back story]

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Photo credit: Musicaloris on Visualhunt

I’m pleased to share not only that Ekstasis magazine has just published my poem, “The Tao of Christ,” but also that this poem has an intriguing back story that reminds me that God is still at work in the word (and world).

Firstly, here’s the poem:

I’ve read this poem so many times that I almost have it memorized. I therefore can be tempted to glaze over it. Yet when I first showed the published poem to my husband Brian, after only briefly glancing at it myself, he said, “hey, that’s pretty cool what you did there with the line ‘pierced.'”

“What are you talking about?” I replied. He then handed my laptop back to me, and pointed out the line jutting into the left margin. Once I saw it, it was impossible not to see. The formatting took my breath away, and then made me laugh with serendipitous surprise.

I did not intend this type of hanging indentation. I had no idea that the poem I submitted to the editor included this formatting until Brian pointed it out to me. This eye-catching line raises all sorts of questions: why did this particular poem, and not the countless others I’ve previously submitted elsewhere, have this formatting? My process of writing and contacting the editors for this poem was the same as it’s been for other poems. What was different here?

And why THIS line only? It’s not the first line of the stanza, or even in the first stanza. Yet the hanging indentation for this line actually improves the poem, adding a visual element to the line’s meaning.

Whether it’s a quirk in Microsoft Word, or direct intervention of the Holy Spirit, I’m not sure. Either way, it reminds my poet self that our poems are not just for ourselves. Our writing has a life of its own, and we cannot control nor contain the active ways that God is alive in our words.

I also find the timing of this poem’s publication to be serendipitous. I’ve recently started reading the book All Shall Be Well by my colleague Catherine McNeil. Catherine has a powerful chapter on clouds and faith, highlighting how in Scripture, God often appears to the people as a cloud: in pillar form, guiding the people in the wilderness (Nehemiah 9:19), as a covering over Mt. Sinai when Moses tarried with God there for 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 24: 15-18), as God’s glory in the Temple at the time of its dedication (1 Kings 8: 1-13).

Like my poem with its funny formatting, a cloud cannot be contained or controlled. A cloud also blinds us to what is ahead. We cannot see through a cloud, so we must learn how to listen and to wait for guidance.

the truth is that we are shrouded, every one of us bewildered, concealed, tangled, encompassed. No peeking ahead into the future, only the next step…Everything—everything—depends on whether we can trust the one who is with us, before us.

-Catherine McNeil, All Shall Be Well

In her book, Catherine also highlights the 700-year-old mystical classic The Cloud of Unknowing. Catherine passes along this sage advice:

I acutely feel the disorientation of this season, the already-but-not-yet of post-COVID life. I didn’t know it until Catherine named it for me, but I’ve felt like I’ve been walking in a cloud. I am grateful for Catherine’s words, which have called me back to the practice of centering prayer that the quote above encourages. I’m finding God in that cloud of unknowing, and it’s enough today.

I also did not know that my poem “The Tao of Christ” would publish last week when I was reading this chapter on clouds. Seems like God has something to say to me this season about clouds and faith, reassuring me of the victory of the morning dew. My own words are speaking to me in a fresh way, and I give thanks that God is with me in the cloud and in the hanging indentations.

What about you? Have you ever found that God spoke to you through your own words, work, etc.? What was that like? Also what do clouds and Catherine’s words above mean for you this season? I’d love to hear what you think!

2 thoughts on ““The Tao of Christ” [poem, clouds, and intriguing back story]

  1. Melanie, my fellow Ekstasis friend….. My poem that was included with the February round up is titled “Exodus 13,” a l s o about walking with God, guided only by a cloud. I think it’s Holy Spirit confirmation all around.
    And the visual aspect of the word ‘pierced’ in your accidentally formatted poem is perfect.
    What a way God has in the world with our words.
    I love it.


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