Thursday, September 09, 2010

Poems about God after 9/11

The following is the preface I wrote to a gathering of poems about God written in the aftermath of September 11. The preface and the poems by American, Polish, and Hungarian poets were published in the Scream Online in 2005:


Before 9/11, I didn’t think much about God, and I hadn’t thought much about Him for a long, long time.

Oh, of course, I thought about Him on occasion. I thought about Him at Christmas time when my daughter Lillian was young and she’d ask me about who baby Jesus was. And I thought about God when I got interested in Isaac Bashevis Singer and started writing a series of articles about him. You can hardly write about Singer without writing about God—but there, I was thinking about God in a different sort of way. It was the way I thought about Him when I taught the great religious writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and T. S. Eliot and Fyodor Dostoevsky. God was an idea, a concept, that I was seeing through a lens and trying to make intellectual and academic sense of.

After 9/11, all that changed. When the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center came down, I discovered that God was no longer academic. He suddenly became important in my world. Not in the sense that I’ve come to believe what my father believed when he knelt every night and prayed in the darkness, nor in the sense that I came to believe what the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Christian Brothers taught me as I was growing up and attending grammar school and high school.

God became important in the sense that my world was suddenly touched and continues to be touched by those who believe in him firmly and absolutely.

They touch my world when they send terrorists here to the United States, and they touch my world when they send American troops to Iraq to bring Saddam Hussein down; and they touch my world when they take my students from my classrooms and send them to Afghanistan, or when they blow up abortion clinics and threaten those they disagree with; and they touch my world when they argue the centrality of faith in all political and social and cultural decisions.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Americans and terrorists are the same in any way except this one very important way: many of them are firmly committed to and acting out of their belief in God.

This simple idea, that good people and bad people can both be acting from a commitment to a similar impulse, the impulse to act as God wants us to act, has driven much of my poetry these last few years. I’ve been writing poems about God, to try to find and make sense of this simple idea. I want to understand this as much as I’ve ever wanted to understand anything.

When I told a poet friend of mine about this, when I told her I was thinking and writing about God, she told me something extraordinary. She was too. And she wasn’t the only one.


Poets who contributed to this gathering are Jared Carter, Feliks Netz, M. L. Williams, M. J. Rychlewski, Marty Scott, Brooke Bergen, Sara McWhorter, Charles A. Fishman, Margaret Szumowski, David Feela, Michael Knisely, G. Gomori, Joe Survant, Homer Christensen, David Radavich, and me, John Guzlowski.

The poems themselves are available at the online arts and culture journal Scream Online.


sonia said...

John Lennon's Imagine has really resonated with me as I've got older. Thank you for a thought provoking post-it took me by surprise.

martin stepek said...

Hi John
Stimulating as always.
I was reading a fascinating view on Taoism two days ago; the academic who wrote it in essence said that the great ancient thinkers who founded what is now called Taoism - Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu - if they ever really existed, believed the following:
humans arrogantly think they know enough to intervene to "better" the universe, to "improve" society, etc, but they don't. Therefore it is better to train oneself to refrain from intervening because we always make things worse.
I'm not saying I entirely agree with this but when great believers in any faith or God or similar decide to kill others to redress perceived sleights or wrongs, or we invade a country which offends us in some way, the lesson from the ancients about non-reaction seems to be very profound.
Of course there's always the argument used against Gandhi's non-violence, what would you do if Hitler invaded India, to which I have no answer.
My mother prays every day to God to keep my father from declining in health and her faith marvellously supports her; but her version of Christianity does not tell her to burn the Koran!
Warm regards

Urkat said...

Martin, I love Taoism and its very profound view of the world. I think they would say intervene when it seems natural to do so. I have no problem with God, but it bothers me that we often turn to God when humans behave badly as in the case of the twin towers. It's as though we're asking God why people would do such a thing when we should be asking the people responsible. Its a human problem, but God handles the mail;)

Christina said...

Currently reading Elie Wiesel's memoir and am fascinated with his discussions with Primo Levi. Wiesel maintained his belief system while Levi renounced the same. Entire courses could be developed around their conversations about God. I wish they had recorded more of their talks.
Always enjoy your blog. Thank you for sharing your work.