The Liturgical Wisdom of Fanny Howe

Fanny Howe is a wonderful poet, novelist, and essayist. You can learn more about her from the Poetry Foundation.

I’ve been reading some of her insights into faith and poetry in her short interview “Footsteps Over Ground” and her longer work The Wedding Dress. I’m amazed by the way she articulates the meaning of and need for liturgy in her poems and essays.

There are questions I ask about liturgy–like, what does a liturgy really do? and, how are poems liturgical and liturgies poetic?–that she answers better than I ever could in my own work.

I just want to offer some of her writing, without comment, for you to sit with. It will be our lectio together:

“Footsteps Over Ground”

As it is in the liturgy, so it is in the world: Truth is as fleeting as a sunbeam, and each time you go to Mass you see truth drop in a place it hadn’t before. A word here, a phrase there, and each time a different one is as potent as the little sip of wine at the end. The truth exists, but it surrounds rather than informs people’s acts, which are constructed around evasion and resistance.

page 108

If I can only be horrified by reality, then I will have to kill myself. If I find it recognizable, I will be okay. The liturgy helps me to recognize the world and time. While the Eucharist is totally mad in terms of human reason, the ritual has another kind of intelligence, one that manages to be both earthy and cosmological.

page 109

The Mass, with its readings from the Gospel stories, and then the Eucharistic rite, repeated for centuries, is an account of the cooperation of transcendence with the ordinary. If it is an opiate, all the better!

pages 109-110

So-called spirituality is not the point of the Mass. There is much of that in a pub on a rainy day, or on an underground train. Most of us know what is meant by suffering, pain, poverty, disease, oppression, betrayal by friends and politicians, illegitimate birth, imprisonment, and the insignificance/vulnerability of a powerless person. These are contained and contemplated in the readings at Mass, and then comes the Eucharist, and of that: the less said the better.

page 110

When I went down to the bottom of the social well and had to get food stamps for myself and my young children to live on, and stood in unemployment lines, with no one to help me get out of the murk of living in economic fear (this lasted about four years), I realized that most rituals in the world are about standing in line and waiting for a change to come. In the urban Catholic churches in America, the one I know, at least–like the Franciscan Church near Penn Station in New York–there is generally a crowd composed of everyone. There is no “others,” and there is art, poetry, and music.

page 111

“Catholic,” from The Wedding Dress

The churn of creation is a constant upward and downward action;
simultaneous, eternal. If you keep thinking there is only an ahead
and a behind, you are missing the side-to-side which gives evidence
to the lie that you are moving progressively.
If everything is moving at the same time, nothing is moving at all.
Time is more like a failed resurrection than a measure of passage.
……………………………………………………………………
The only end sought for in itself is the last end. It is always present
in us, after, after. The sky all around.
The completion of ourselves.
Everything we want is weirdly in everything we seek, so this is how
we know who we are, by what we want, by what we lack. The outer
tells the inner what it wants.

“Time is more like a failed resurrection than a measure of passage.”

“The Mass is an account of the cooperation of transcendence with the ordinary.”

“…the ritual has another kind of intelligence, one that manages to be both earthy and cosmological.”

“The outer tells the inner what it wants.”

“There is no ‘others,’ and there is art, poetry, and music.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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