Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Clergy reacts to After Shocks

The reaction to After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events among clergy has been both surprising and strong. Surprising because I never expected it. Strong because I'm getting invited to conduct readings at churches and synagogues.

Months ago, during my reading and selection process, I spoke with the mother of a friend of my daughter about After Shocks. She happens to be Rev. Lindsay Armstrong, a Presbyterian minister, and her husband, Mark Douglas, happens to be a theologian at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta. My initial question to them, very informally, was this: I had been reading the Psalms, all 150 of them, searching for a Psalm of recovery (one which had not yet appeared on a T-shirt) that I might include in the anthology. I commented that the Psalms of recovery always seemed to include vengeance as part of their recovery, which I didn't deem within my vision for After Shocks, and I rejected using a Psalm. Mark whipped out his Blackberry, into which he had loaded an entire Concordance, and began searching, and he looked up puzzled. "You may be right," he said.

However, the more we talked about my vision for After Shocks, the more excited they became about the possibilities for After Shocks as a resource in a pastoral care context. It took be a couple of days to process their reaction. When I began to look at this more deeply, I discovered that for most people, their first point of contact after a life-shattering event is their clergy. They may end up with a psychiatrist, psychologist, other therapist, but clergy plays a huge role in recovery for most people. I had one of those "duh!" moments, where you hit your forehead with the palm of your hand.

It was one of the more interesting events to confront my vision over the 18 months from conception to publishing.

The minister's husband suggested that I contact Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament Scholar at the Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur (near my Atlanta home), which I eventually did, and Dr. Brueggemann read over the manuscript and wrote a foreword to After Shocks.

Now that After Shocks has been published, the reaction from clergy is very strong. I've had clergy members tell me that they like to use poetry in their sermons, that they look for stories like those in After Shocks in their pastoral care for the sick, the dying, the grieving, the lost.

I have received invitations to conduct readings at Sunday School sessions at three churches, one in Sewanee, Tennessee, and two in Atlanta. I'll post the schedule later this week. There's also a synagogue in D.C. that's considering inviting me to a session with the congregation.

Though After Shocks is not overtly religious, nor even covertly religious, I believe that clergy are reacting to the underlying theme of the anthology that builds as you read it: The resilience of the human spirit. We have the resources within ourselves to battle our way back from life-shattering events.

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