Sanctuary of Echoes by Natalie Weaver

Natalie WeaverTomorrow I will have the unique opportunity to hear my son recite a poem I wrote before his class. The students were invited to select a poem to memorize and perform along with props or costumes as suited the material. The only conditions were that the poem be a minimum of twelve lines, published in a book, and in good taste. A poorly chosen poem, he said, would result in perpetual detention.

I was excited when he expressed enthusiasm for the assignment. I asked him what kind of poem he would like to learn. Something humorous? Something dramatic? Something tragic? Something about love? War? I read to him first those famous opening words of Virgil’s Aeneid: Arma virumque cano (I sing of arms and a man…). I thought surely he would be intrigued by the rhythm and the promise of such a tale. He asked for some other options, so I presented favorites from the Medieval Hebrew canon. I taught him Adon Olam, since he was curious about learning poetry in a foreign language. He liked it quite a bit and learned how to pronounce the Hebrew, but this was not his choice. I pulled out selections from Catullus’ eulogies for his brother. I searched Sappho for something playful. We read more contemporary options from the usual suspects in an anthology of poetry that I had used in a college course: Frost, Dickinson, Poe. I even introduced him to the seductive “duende” of the great early 20th century Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca in his Poet in New York.

To my surprise, my son asked if he could learn something from my own book of poetry, which I had published a few years back – Interior Design. It was a kind of necessary passage for me during a time of hardship, and it represented the gathering, honoring, and retiring of years of words that had played in my mind. There were some very adult themes in the material, so, as with the other poems, I had to shepherd his reading. I was amazed at how truly exposed I felt to hear him read my words back to me, searching for comprehension. Even as I write, I wonder what he was gleaning about me, not so much as his mother in that instant but simply as a human being. Would he like me? Care about me? Forgive me? Accept me?

Last year in my feminist theology class, I used Inheriting Our Mothers’ Gardens: Feminist Theology in Third World Perspective, edited by Letty M. Russell, Kwok Pui-lan, Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, and Katie Geneva Cannon.   It was a powerful experience to read this collection of essays with my students, but one essay in particular brought us all to tears. Chung Hyun Kyung’s “Following Naked Dancing and Long Dreaming” describes an awakening in the author’s understanding of her mothers. Where once she cried in embarrassment by her mother’s unbridled naked dancing, she recollects coming as an adult to appreciate the dance and at last to want to join it. She expresses this in an arresting letter to her mothers in the great beyond. To my mind, Chung Hyun Kyung articulates a revelatory and compassionate turn in her own perceptions of her parents, especially of their inadequacies (and, specifically and searchingly, of the inadequacies of her own mothers). It is a profound reminder to me that it is only in the light of forgiveness and acceptance that we will be well when we reflect upon those who precede us, those who succeed us, and invariably upon our very own selves.

I wonder sometimes about how my children will perceive me as they grow, and I know that their own choices to accept and forgive will be theirs alone to make. Sometimes, I am not so sure, as when the same son recently told me that he had a dream I turned into a monster and he had to fight me. I said, “Ah, this is a classic coming of age problem … let’s read about Marduk and Tiamat.” We had a laugh, even though the whole affair left me scratching my head. I am encouraged, though, that he wanted to read my poem before his class.

This one here below is not the poem he is reading, but it is one that I wrote for him as I considered the immensity of the frame that a mother constitutes for her children. I, for my part, have always been convinced that my mother is my foremost church.

“Sanctuary of Echoes”

Sight is more beautiful
Through colored glass
Stained and cut as I am
In the transmission of light

This always will be
Eternal like my press
Didactic facing forward
Formal facing upward

Hugely buttressed
Profoundly uninhabitable
Sanctuary of echoes
Icon of our love

Draped by cloth
Perfumed by oil
Arranged by flowers
Elevated by song

The persuasion of my hand
Directing your shoulder
I touch your hair gently
your pilgrim, your guide

It does not matter
Wherever you sit here
I will always be in here
Whenever you enter

You will hear me forever
Singing beside you
She will always be your mother
I will always be your church

Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D., is Chair and Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books include: Marriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013). Natalie is currently writing Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014).  Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin.  Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology.  Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan.  For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.

Categories: Childhood, Children, Family, Love, Motherhood, parenting, Poetry, Relationships

Tags: , ,

1 reply

  1. How beautiful that your son wanted to read your poetry. That is the kind of validation that few of us can ever have. He sounds like a special person.


Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: