Thursday, March 20, 2008

Storming Heaven's Gate/What Women Can Do

STORMING HEAVEN'S GATE -- photo by Graciela Iturbide

This is a multicultural anthology of spiritual writings by women. In rediscovering spirituality in a female context, this is ideal source material. By ‘source’ I mean personal soul food to feed my own yearnings, ground water for the wellspring of my daily life.
Storming Heaven’s Gate skillfully bridges the everyday with the divine, featuring the writing of Pat Mora, Lucille Clifton, and Audre Lorde. I would like to comment specifically on the work of these women and its impact on my creative life.

Pat Mora’s contribution is a list poem, in which she invokes the Goddess through her many Aztec names. In a cry for wholeness and renewal she calls on Coatlicue, Tlaliyolo, and the Virgin de Tepayac/Guadalupe. Coatlicue is the serpent mother, representing all and nothingness from whence all emerges. Tlaliyolo is the creator/destroyer of worlds, and the Virgin of Tepeyac/Guadalupe is the eternal maiden, ever able to renew herself across the ages. The world springs forth, eats itself, springs forth again, dissolves itself in velvet blackness, and rises again, as one, as many, divine and common. These facets of the divine reflect exactly the kind of sensual, radiant cycle of spirituality that are the hallmark of
Storming Heaven’s Gate.

Creatively and personally, I needed to engage the Goddess in a Latin context. In doing so, I found freedom from restrictive ideas of female identity that have been Catholicism's and colonialism's legacy. It is precisely the idea of sin, of the inherent pollution of women’s bodies, that had to be broken through for me to fully claim my creative energy and direct it.

As I continue to try to make new work, I have to reach out for connection in an ever-deepening way. My personal spirituality is being plumbed for imagery, for language, for a way to connect with something larger than myself.

Ironically, and in a way I can only begin to comprehend, this spiritual connection is plumbing me as well. What I mean here is that I can't forget that writing is my tether to something divine. Personal success, critical or audience acceptance needs to remain a secondary consideration, as much as care about those things. ‘What is being worked though me?’ is the question that I have to ask myself, the question that demands an answer at the end of the day.

In 'brothers, part 6,' Lucille Clifton cries out to a silent God who turns a deaf ear to suffering. She asks:

    tell me why
    in the confusion of a mountain
    of babies stacked like cordwood...
    tell me why You neither raised your hand
    nor turned away...why You said nothing. (p.28)

I can feel my own tears lodge in my throat as I write this. What a terrible beauty exists in her description of both a personal and global apocalypse. Her wound, her grief, the abandoned bodies of nameless children, unsaved, unprotected.

Clifton asks the eternal question of a God she desperately wants connection with but does not understand.
I remember my own rage at what I saw at the time as God's silence in the face of my own childhood abuse. I see now that what happened was part of my story unfolding, the catalyst for who I've become. It was a singular gift, a defining moment, in which I had to choose to live and to transform. In my case, that moment is where I encountered a God/Goddess.

Lastly, Audre Lorde illustrates the kind of language and imagery I can only hope to achieve someday. She was poet, theorist, theologian, lover, survivor, and griot - someone who once tore down the Master's house and built a temple to the New/Old Mother. One poem in particular kept speaking to me, even in dreams after I read it for the first time.
In it, Lorde writes:

    Attend me, hold me in you muscular arms, protect me
    from throwing any part of myself away. (p.67)

How perfect this quote is, to its vision of encountering the very dark and moving into the light. How moving it is to hear a call to restoration and rebirth in a woman’s voice, shaped by She-Who-Is.

  • ISBN-10: 0452276217
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452276215
Lisa Alvarado

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