YES, THE POPE COMING TO AMERICA IS CATHOLIC
Peter Steinfels, who used to cover religion regularly for the New York Times and now writes a religion column for the paper, has produced this good commentary about the pope's upcoming visit and the silliness you might expect from some segments of the media. Steinfels, now co-director of the Fordham University Center on Religion and Culture, is right, I think, to suggest that all of us should not think we know ahead of time what Benedict XVI will say and do and think. Nor should the media pretend to be shocked by information about the church that's been true for decades.
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WHAT ROLE FOR RELIGIOUS POETRY?
I'm going to use today's 377th anniversary of the death of the poet John Donne (depicted here) to talk a bit about religious poetry and to ask what role, if any, it plays today.
Donne, as you may know, was born into an English Catholic family in 1572, when anti-Catholic sentiment ran high there. He eventually became a poet with both romantic and profoundly religious sensibilities, and was able to give poetic voice to various theological ideas, including the ultimate weakness of death ("Death be not proud" from Holy Sonnet X) and the importance of the idea that God built us for relationship ("No man is an island, entire of itself" from Meditation XVII).
Metaphysical poetry before and after Donne has played an important role. Among 20th century poets influenced by him were W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot and William Butler Yeats. Eliot, as you may know, was a Missouri native who eventually made England his home and eventually became a Roman Catholic. Among my favorite Eliot poems is one about part of the Christmas story, "The Journey of the Magi."
Do you read religious or metaphysical poetry today beyond the lyrics of hymns or praise music? If so, who qualifies as a religious poet today (besides Bob Dylan) in your view? And what difference does religious poetry make? I'm told, by the way, that the most popular poet in America today is Rumi, a favorite among people who follow the mystic, or Sufi, tradition of Islam.
To end today, I'll share with you one in the series of poems I've written about people I have known who have died of AIDS:
The corrugated rattle of death --
that raspy, rhythmic gurgle
of life slipping away
I've learned to hate --
I heard first in your throat.
You wanted to be
several years younger,
when you could talk
above a pained whisper.
But time's rules are hard,
and when your noise stopped
you were gone and still.
Gone and, I hoped, singing.
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here.