Dear Pope Francis,
Yesterday’s post on the Vatican Twitter indulgence story reminded me of a poem I wrote awhile ago. It was just after I’d begun my studies at the Sophia Center, and I was struggling with not having the language to describe what I was learning. The New Story brought so many, well, new concepts into play in terms of how I understood the Divine, but I lacked the language to discuss them. My “old” words did not seem capable of conveying all of this new meaning. I felt I was fumbling for words.
So, I wrote this poem. I hope you enjoy.
Forgive Me as I Fumble My Words
by Kevin Aschenbrenner
At thirty-nine, I’m learning to speak
Words I thought
God. Father. King. Religion. Heaven. Hell. Saint. Sinner. Scripture. Jesus. Good. Evil.
These used to be solid, dependable, pronounceable words.
Rolling off my tongue, automatic, thoughtlessly.
I was fluent in that language. Knew its rules.
Learned the conjugations long ago.
Could be understood within my closed tribe.
But these words no longer fit
in my mouth.
Like a favorite food that once made me sick,
and since then I can’t stomach,
to me they now bring nausea
a puckering of the lips
gorge in the throat
warding motions of the hands
And I know why.
These are baggaged words.
They come burdened with meaning
accreted through millennia of misuse
They are barnacled over, sharp.
They wound me now,
when they pass through my throat,
leaving jagged cuts along my tongue and gums.
They wound others who hear them, too.
They alienate, drive off,
I no longer want to pay the baggage fees for these words.
Their cost is prohibitive.
I want to unpack that ugly luggage
smelling of unwashed clothes
too long kept from the fresh air
and let the truth out
to run free again in the world.
As it was always meant to.
For that is what our spirits need.
A good airing out.
Time to shake themselves loose.
Mix with fresh air, and ideas.
Let the wind in to plump them up
Like new pillows
So they may support us in these nervy times
When we all need a soft, safe refuge to collapse upon
To rest, renew, and rise again.
And I will resist temptation to clothe truth too quickly
in binding words.
To end the uncertainty
and placate my anxiety with forced enclosure.
For I know what starts as a flowing linen robe
May soon, if we’re not careful
Become a corset
Or a constricting collar with a perfectly-knotted tie
Making truth becoming to look at
but left scratching at its throat, straining its torso
panicked and unable to breathe.
I will not fear that without those old words
those old bindings
that what lay obscured at their core
It travels well and remains undamaged,
no matter how poor the packaging
or negligent the handling
It bounces back.
Arrives fresh, ripe, unspoiled.
You just have to know it needs peeling
before you can bite in
and let its juice dribble into your soul.
So, forgive me
I am frustrated, too
that I can’t make myself
And this spiritual aphasia may persist
for a good
So if my words come slowly
bear with me.
I’m using new vowels and consonants
to build an airy, boundless, transparent net
To both carry truth
and let it breathe.