Pastor Karen offers a reflection on the experience of presenting her poetry book along with artist Emily C-D at Red Emma’s in Baltimore. She continues to ask the question “Where is God in this?” in her encounters.
A Christian clergy and an artist walk into a radical bookstore in Baltimore… that could be the beginning of a joke or a poem. Last week, on a Wednesday night it happened in real life.
An unlikely collaboration of a clergy (me) from the liturgical tradition and an artist (Emily C-D) educated at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) met up at Red Emma’s on North Ave in Baltimore for a 7:30 pm book reading and art show.
I’m sure the only reason we got a slot to offer the books at Red Emma’s is because of Emily C-D and her art. Red Emma’s is run as a collective and its newer and bigger location is on North Ave in Baltimore. Our little book had an evening space in the midst of books that critique our society from a progressive direction. I was not sure my words could keep up with the the likes of Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow), D. Watkins (The Beast Side: Living and Dying While Black in America), or Nikki Giovanni (The Collected poetry of Nikki Giovanni 1968-1998 (P.S.) ).
But maybe that was the wrong question — it’s not about keeping up, rather it’s about offering a spirit-filled, faith-based perspective on the classic spiritual question: where is God in this?
We carried the 11 original watercolors that Emily painted to illustrate the poems into Red Emma’s. The welcome was warm and true and included the offer of snacks from the restaurant — the excellent bread pudding would soon warm me up!
We placed the pictures on a line up of chairs across the front of the speaking area, and we soon began greeting the people that were coming to hear us.
By 7:45 pm we were on. We orchestrated a slow exchange between the poetry and the art. I chose poems that I thought would connect with the audience. And as I led, I also watched and listened.
I got an “Amen,” from a young woman at the back on my right when I named the corners in East Baltimore that I used to credential myself— Madison and Lakewood; Patterson Park and Orleans; McElderry and Port. We got some nods, smiles and a few laughs along the way. We took one question — and handed it to Ed Miller. Ed is the one whose work in vacant lots weaves in and out of the book. Ed talked about the concept of relationship building and respect and how that combination worked in every direction in community and city work.
After the talk, there was lots of visiting, and 3 things got my attention as they seemed to me to offer a further unfolding of the little book and the question–where is God in this?
First, I connected with the one who offered the AMEN. We talked some about faith and life and the challenges to Christianity practiced in church. We talked about the busyness of church that can overshadow the being in Christ which nurtures our interior life. We talked about dry places in our souls. I suggested regular contemplation — either sitting alone or in a group (as we do at Luther Place Church), or in a discipline of walking a labyrinth. I am convinced that there is no real way to nurture and discern action without regular contemplation.
Second, a young man approached me, and said, “The guy over there told me you are a pastor, and I need a prayer.” So in the midst of the fluid bookstore crowd, I offered, “Let’s sit down, and I will pray for you.” We sat, I asked what he wanted prayer for, listened for awhile and then I prayed. He thanked me, and we parted.
Finally, a friend pulled me aside and said, “That picture for the poem, For Douglas and East Baltimore, him lying on the ground, becoming the boulder — that’s Jesus!” I responded with a nod and a quiet, Amen.
Our unlikely collaboration brought out the the mysterious and the mundane at Red Emma’s last Wednesday. And for a little while that night, it seemed that God was in our midst, moving in and out of the motley crowd — quietly insisting that we all belonged.