“Interfaith Relationship” is one of those poems that begs the question, “Did this really happen?” For those of you who know that I’ve been dating a clergy person for the last several years, you may be picturing quite the domestic scene! However, I rarely write a purely autobiographical poem.
In this poem, I was interested in exploring the contrast between darkness and light in religion. Here’s a little personal background: I grew up in a church called Self-Realization Fellowship, which is Hindu-ish but celebrates Christmas. (That’s the abbreviated version.) Also note, the church is called Self-Realization FELLOWSHIP, not Ananda Church of Self-Realization. Something else is going on in that church. Anyway, I liked going to church, for the most part. They taught us how to meditate, which is funny to me now because everyone seems to be meditating, these days. In the 80s—and even throughout my graduate school years—I kept that practice to myself. It definitely was not cool or trendy, when I was younger! Toward the end of my Ph.D. program, after years of feeling that my religion never quite “fit,” I dropped it. I felt so much lighter and happier and expansive. However, I felt, and still feel, glad that I had the experience of going to this church. I learned so much about discipline and perseverance from this religion. Nevertheless, when I later read Eckhart Tolle’s work, his comments on religion resonated with me. He said that all religions are sign posts, pointing you toward the path, but that you can’t get attached to the sign post, lest you never move forward.
After I left the church, it didn’t really occur to me to tell anyone. It felt so natural to me that I never even thought of my exit as an event. I didn’t need anyone’s approval, and there was no turning back anyway. It was laughable to think of trying. I do remember what my dear friend Dave Georges said to me, when he learned that I had left the church: “Yogananda [the founder of SRF] would be proud of you. He never liked dogma.”
Sometimes, though, I miss church. I miss feeling inspired in that certain way one can be, when they’re part of a group. Once in a great while, I even miss the rules. It’s hard, in a sense, not to be told what to do, even though, to me, it’s much harder to follow someone else’s belief instead of my own intuition. Occasionally, I’ve thought about joining a different religion. The natural choice would be Buddhism. It’s similar to my former religion, but I’ve never felt pulled in that direction. I’ve never been interested in being Christian either. Recently, I read a couple books on Wicca and Paganism, but I think that if worshipping nude in the forest still feels too restrictive, then religion’s just not for me! (I’d probably like that one best, though.) I guess I just like my “spiritual” practices free-style. (Sidebar: Man, I hate the word “spiritual”! I cannot stand it when people use it to mean anything they like. “Spiritual” this, “spiritual” that. What are they even talking about? I think this video perfectly expresses my irritation with the vague and obnoxious use of the word “spiritual”: “How to be Ultra Spiritual”)
Without further adieu, in the first line of “Interfaith Relationship,” the “flaw that hangs above us” refers to the contrast between the speaker’s Pagan religion and her lover’s Christian faith. The second line “like a water moccasin” is there, of course, to create an ominous tone. For those of you who do not live in areas where there are water moccasins, I can tell you that those little jerks hang out in low-hanging trees sometimes, so be careful as you’re floating down the creek!
Also, in the first stanza, I create tension in language (that’s poet-speak for contrasting images like “hot and cold,” “old and young”) with a “morning” that is “bright” and the lover’s mind, which is stuck in a morbid moment: “but you / see a cross, a terrible thing / that happened once.” Then, the speaker notes the guilt that the lover would like to share with her: “You say / it’s your fault / and mine.”
In the second stanza, nature expresses the darkness of death and shame. There is a mixture of the morbid side of Christianity and the nature-worship of Pagans. The contrast presents itself again in the third stanza when the lover judges the speaker’s wealth. Notice the echo of “hanging” from the first stanza and also its reference to the crucifixion.
Fun fact about stanza four: I had originally written “dance / naked as you circle” but after reading the book, Witches in America by Alex Mar, I learned the word “sky-clad” and immediately revised this stanza! In this image, I contrast the speaker’s spiritual practice with her lover’s.
For the ending of the poem, I use the concrete image of baking bread to illustrate two aspects of the speaker and the Christian: the fact that both people possess definite beliefs that do not complement the other’s (at least not in this poem) and the competition between the two. I leave the poem on a question because I don’t believe that there’s ever a definite winner when it comes to belief-conflicts. Even if there seems to be a victor, the underdog will either rise again or will morph into a new opposing belief-system.
To read this poem, please check out Words Dance, which is a super cool literary magazine, or click below!
Featured Image: Isadora Duncan http://www.counter-currents.com/2011/05/remembering-isadora-duncan-pagan-priestess-of-dance/