About Me

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I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Back from a wonderful conference on David Jones - some reflections on return



David Jones "Mother of the West" 1942  Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle Upon Tyne
used as logo for the conference
I am just back from a conference, “David Jones: Dialogueswith The Past", held at the University of York from July 20-23.    These conferences happen every few years and I don’t always get to the ones that are in the UK but I am very glad to have been there for this one.  The connections and friendships with what we sometimes call the “David Jones community” really inspire me  and keep me going in what has become an ongoing  spiritual practice of reading and scholarly reflection for me.  That process  nurtures my identity as scholar and as poet,  and these gatherings remind me how deeply this practice is rooted in years of work on David Jones even though it ranges wider now. 

Images and moments that are staying with me from the York conference remind me how in the true spirit of an incarnational aesthetic we were engaged with all our senses, beginning with  the great intellectual stimulation all around, but also with feasting for the eyes, the tongue, the ear, and the appreciation, always deepened when we engage with Jones, of what Paul Hills called "the good bodily image" (quoting from Jones).

Despite Jones's strongly anti-technological bent it was quite wonderful to see, at this conference, what technology permitted:  starting with the welcome from William Blissett, the "don" of David Jones studies at age 94,  and receiving his avuncular advice about Jones studies and Jones conferences – it was just right to have his voice and image to gather us since he couldn’t be there in the flesh.   It was great to have the right equipment to look together at Jones’s art work and linger over thorough readings – notably of course in Paul Hills’s keynote on “the good bodily image” and his invitation to look at Jones’s work alongside Italian Renascence images that he knew and loved in the National Gallery.   And there was Rose Lavan’s attentive reading of Jones’s “Female Warden” and Hilary Davies’s and others’ images from Stanley Spencer and reflections from artists present among us, who could talk about their work in the context of David Jones.   We encountered “The Dream of the Rood” in a variety of ways – in papers and also in Rahul Gupta’s riveting performance of Anglo Saxon text and his translation at the conference dinner.  And trees – everywhere – it kept coming up.  The destruction of trees at Mametz at the heart of it all – but The Dream of the Rood and the Vexilla Regis and the Tree of the Cross and actual, green, bodily trees.  It stays with me as an image.  There were challenges and new insights to reflect on – Tom Dilworth’s addition to psychological reflection on Jones’s life and work,  Fr. John David Ramsey and others directing our attention the gestures and movements in the Tridentine mass and how they help us see more in Jones.   And good, engaged, reflective conversations – I could cite many but remembering, for example, wide ranging discussion on the relationship between “sacrament” and “forgiveness,”  and the feminist thing (if it’s a thing in Jones - I think it is) and the Anglo-Saxon thing and of course the Roman thing -- lots of food for futrher thought, and the thrill of seeing good work well done and well presented. And Adam Schwartz’s closing keynote, which kept the energy up through the very end of a rich and stimulating conference, and his intriguing suggestion, with a quote from Siegried Sassoon, that perhaps we have in In Parenthesis  the epic of the Great War that would be appreciated "in 100 years time" - this of course particularly relevant on this 100th anniversary year of the Battle of Mametz Wood.  

As I said in the closing, it was wonderful to witness conversations “in the flesh” between people who knew each other from reading their work but had never met!   And to be in these conversations myself – meeting, for the first time, Christine Pagnouille,  Luke Thurston, Adam Schwartz, among others.  And most of all to have so many young scholars with truly fresh approaches joining and really leading the conversation. 

But to the bodied experience, and all the senses.   I loved beginning my own time at the conference by hearing early mass at St. Wilfrid’s,  with Fr. John David Ramsey presiding,  And then I made a solitary visit to the Minster, and knelt and sat and walked in its vast, illuminated spaciousness, and took in the layers and layers of history there, and lit a candle for absent friend Tom Goldpaugh. 

At St. Wilfred’s on Friday, the ineffable beauty and rightness and depth of Opus Anglicanum’s performance based on In parenthesis,  with the added richness of hearing it in company with this particular audience.    And then the feasting afterwards:  good food, good conversation, good poetry to hear.  Feasting also went on after the conference events on other nights, at the Dunmore Arms, moving between tables and having conversations and deepening and renewing old friendships.  It was lovely how generously the wine flowed at several conference events, enhancing conversations. 

And at the heart of all of it – a true gift, made possible by attentive scholarship and and new technology, the showing of clips from the Mabon Studios tapes of David Jones,  painstakingly edited by Jasmine Hunter-Evans and Anne Price-Owen.    We shall all retain that full screen image of David Jones's mobile face, with its puckish smile, as he listened to the interviewer’s question,  and then, in a strong voice, and countenance fully alive, reading from the opening lines of “The Tutelar of the Place”  and the closing pages of The Anathemata.

At which, I was undone.


I shall remain deeply grateful and delighted by the fine work of the conference organizers, Anna Svendson and Jasmine Hunter-Evans and the presence of all who participated. What a feast these last few days have been!!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

I'm back - with a new book to sell!




  I'm excited to announce that my new book of poems, Good Places, is now available for pre-order from Finishing Line Press. It's a series of lyric poems that trace a journey between places, leaving an old home and moving to a new one, a journey that quietly becomes a time of spiritual transformation.  These poems explore the experience of being fully present in a place,  finding in the trees, the garden, the birds, light and interior spaces of an old home and a new home images for losses and the discoveries, the turnings and the seasons of life.






The print run is determined by number of preorders so now is the time if you are inclined to order it.  Delivery scheduled for October 14.  I am very grateful for any and all pre-orders.  You can see information on the book and preorder at https://finishinglinepress.com/product_info.php?cPath=2&products_id=2695


Friday, August 28, 2015

So, What are You Teaching?I Deuteronomy


            This fall I’m feeling a little “off” the usual academic schedule.  My online teaching at Wesley
(Poetry for Spiritual Formation – more on that soon) begins in October so I’m not starting the semester in step with everyone else.   So when people ask me “are you teaching this fall,” the answer is, well, yes – but not in the usual academic way, with a course starting next week and running through December.  Rather, I have several really interesting teaching “gigs” that intersect with each other, as well as some writing projects.  I thought maybe picking up this blog again, after quite awhile “off”, might help me see the connections among these various interesting gigs and so I’ll try to post on some of the different topics I’m  teaching

            Starting with this week when I’ll be meeting up again with the Pathfinders Young AdultsBible study in Northern Virginia.  We also call ourselves a “progressive Christian young adults group”.  After a summer reading through my colleagueStephen Cook’s book on Deuteronomy, I’m looking forward to struggling through parts of it with this group of curious, critical, committed young adults that I’ve been working with and loving for 7 years now – especially as this will be my last semester with them.

            So – Deuteronomy:  Steve’s book has taught me to pay attention to this as a book of the Bible that explores how to live life as the people of God, whose identity and purpose is defined by a covenant. A covenant with a God who loves humankind and desires our thriving.   

            It comes from an intensely tribal, patriarchal, culture, in a violent time in human history ( has there ever been a non-violent time in human history?)  So reading it for the “plain sense” of Scripture can get us into some very dark places, where we can be using Scripture to justify imperialism and oppressions and power trips of all kinds – and it has certainly been used this way.

            But read in its context,  this book can come to life as an invitation to live another way – to ask what it takes to form a society where people are respected, the poor and marginalized are cared for,  wealth is managed with an eye to fairness and abundance is shared and celebrated.  It is also a society where people desire to live as God would have them live, guided by the ten commandments – so most of the book is an extensive gloss on those commandments.  Some of the particulars get a little crazy – dietary laws and descriptions of sexual “abominations” – but as I read through the larger lens of “how to be the people of God.” Faithfulness to God, fairness to fellow human beings, family, neighbor – and especially avoiding “covetousness” – the wanting of what is not ours that leads to violence and domination.

            We will definitely be looking at the parts of this book that make us ask “really? This is God saying this? It sure seems awful?”  - but we will also be looking through the “people of God” lens, to see what we can learn by trying to read these rich speeches of Moses in our own cultural context . When we do I think we will see how “counter-cultural” the life of God’s people has always been in Scripture.

            Reading this troubling and challenging book of the Bible over the summer, I found that sometimes I got to the core of what it was saying to me by writing a poem. Here’s the poem that came out of reading the first 8 chapters of Deuteronomy: a place I will begin with this fall teaching:

I keep forgetting how
It is all a love story
A God in love with a people
Wooing and cajoling them
Can’t you see, the Moses-story says
This is the Way
Follow here. It is the path of life
There is a way that human life can be
Can’t you see?
We are still a stubborn people
Still beloved. Still free



Singleness of heart
Of soul, of mind and strength
Of each of us in all: being
God’s people – not erased
In our particularity
But drawn together ,one
In the one who loves
Heart-soul-mind-strength
Sees as one
The beauty in each one
Draws us together
Without loss of each-ness
Into one beloved One.    (c)Kathleen Henderson Staudt 2016

   

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Practice of Discernment (again)

It has been awhile since I updated this blog - will try to do better this summer (2015) by including some musings on topics that are coming up in my teaching and retreat work over this next few months.
One of these will be a workshop on discernment for the Doctor of Ministry program at Virginia Theological Seminary.  Here's a post that can be a resource for folks in that class as well as for other readers.


This post also appeared in "Toast" - the Young Adult Ministry blog for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington

“I have come that they might have life,” Jesus says, and that they might have it abundantly”(John 10:10) .  How can I tell whether a new idea or opportunity that is attracting is in tune with who God made me to be?  What do I do with this feeling of restlessness I’ve been having lately? Where is God in this difficult situation?  What am I supposed to do now?  All these questions are rooted in the deeper question: what is God’s dream for my life? The  Christian practice of “discernment” helps us keep track of that call to abundant  life, both for ourselves and the world around us. Here are three core approaches:


Checking in with God – the “examen” One way of practicing  daily discernment is a simple practice of checking in with God each day – 5 minutes, just beginning with a few deep breaths, to rest in God’s presence and love, and then ask God “Where did I meet you today?”  and “Where did I miss you” – these questions frame the Ignatian practice of the daily “examen.”  They help us remember that God is always present in our lives, and invite us to pay attention.

Spiritual Friendships :  Discernment is not a solitary practice: We all need companions, whether a formal “spiritual director”  or a good friend, who can help us step back and ask “where is God in this situation?”  Who is that person in your life?

Discernment in community:  The clearness committee, practice from the Quaker tradition, inviting a group of faithful people to come together and listen for God’s leadings, asking open-ended, non-judgmental questions, without giving advice, can help us listen for God’s will in a life-decision.


More resources on discernment can be found on my website, “Discerning Your Way in Life  http://poetproph-discerningyourway.blogspot.com/

Monday, September 15, 2014

Reading Scripture Creatively

(Also on episcopal cafe Sept 10 2014)
A good deal of my teaching this fall turns out to require some open reflection on the way that I read the Bible . I keep discovering that my habitual way of reading Scripture is not obvious to everyone, though it comes naturally to me as a reader of literature and poetry ( It is probably no accident that some other thinkers about the contemporary church and the Bible – including Verna Dozier and Brian McLaren and probably others, started life as English teachers – and that is also my background, training, just my way of reading Marcus Borg gets us to this approach when he writes about taking the Bible “seriously but not literally.”
220px-Bible.malmesbury.arp.jpgTaking Scripture seriously, not literally, means that I am always coming to a Biblical text, in daily meditations or in small group, with the assumption that there is something that I can learn about God by engaging with this text, simply because, as Scripture, it contains the record of someone’s experience of God, or of what it means to think of ourselves as in some sense “God’s people.” So I’m always trying to read the text in some ways “faithfully,” even when I don’t completely accept or believe – indeed even when I might be appalled by -- the ‘plain sense’ of what I’m reading. This assumption that the text has something to teach us is the difference between approaching a Biblical text simply as a “message” to accept or reject and approaching it as “Scripture,” a text that has been given to us, as the prayer book says, “for our learning.” So – here are some questions I’ll bring to a text of Scripture that I’m reading for a class or for my personal meditation. 
1. What kind of text is this? Is it poetry, or history, or folk story, or is it a parable or lesson to be learned? The Bible contains a lot of different kinds of texts and reading it faithfully requires having a sense of where we are. It makes a big difference, for example, whether we read the opening of Genesis as a poetic text (which it is closest to being) or as a scientific treatise (which it can’t be because they didn’t write them back then).
2. What do I know about the context that gave rise to this text, what it might have said to the people who first heard or wrote it down. What comes right before it in the text? What questions was it answering for people then? How do those questions compare to my own questions? Are they the same?
3. What do I know about this text in relation to other parts of the Bible? Sometimes this can give us some good insights: talking about a passage in a group can be a great source of wisdom around this question
4. What do I know about how this text has traditionally been read? What questions did that tradition bring to the text? Are there insights to be gained by looking at different translations of the same text (often these are clues to interpretive decisions). What questions does this raise for me? All of which leads to. . .
5. What question am I bringing to this text? Where is it speaking to me or challenging me? Identifying these questions can become a good signal to pause for prayer and “listen” to what the text might be saying – what words or phrases jump out or speak to me? What is the process of reading this text telling me about my own search for deeper understanding of the mystery of life with God?
6. How might I pray with this text? After a time of meditation, alone or in a group, I might ask: what am I learning from this passage of Scripture today? About myself? About God? About being part of “God’s people”?

What this kind of approach avoids is simply reading into the text whatever we bring to it, or getting hung up on what we don’t like about a particular text of Scripture and so dismissing it . – It allows us to step back and let the text “speak” first and acknowledge that any act of reading is an entry into a kind of relationship. I like it that the Rabbinic tradition of interpretation or midrash has known this for a long time: that the act of reading Scripture, and especially wrestling with the parts that we don’t understand or like, and trying to make new sense of them, is always a religious activity – a process of drawing nearer to the Mystery regardless of whether we can get an interpretation fully “right” . It is a gift to read the Bible as Scripture in this sense -- as inviting a process of learning, as something organic and “still speaking” --rather than as something fixed and rigid. The approach that these questions sketch out helps us to experience Scripture as “word of God” – as a way we’ve been given to respond to the generosity of a God who for some mysterious reason keeps on trying to get through to us.