The Braided River of Language

Last winter, sitting at my kitchen table listening to National Public Radio commentator Scott Simon report on Bosnia, I heard him close with this line of poetry: "It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably everyday/for lack/of what is found there." With The Washington Post in my hands, I broke down and cried.

After following the atrocities of the Bosnian war for months and engaging in long despairing discussions about what to do, I finally had my heart split open by a line of poetry and was jump-started into action.

For six weeks during that snowy Lent, a small band of Christians gathered for prayer and public witness at sites representing Sarajevo's religious communities. With a banner, candles, and a violinist, we offered our witness for peace. We prayed with Muslims who thanked us for not forgetting them and with an Orthodox priest who invited us to view his church's icons under restoration by Russian iconographers recently allowed to leave the former Soviet Union. As they say, it didn't change the world, but perhaps it kept the world from changing me.

Adrienne Rich's recent collection of essays, What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics, takes its title from the same William Carlos Williams poem ("Asphodel, That Greeny Flower") that Simon quoted. While it is clear through Rich's prose that she has no fondness for Christians whose faith appears as only a theological undergirding for protecting their social status, she does have a deep wisdom about the spiritual power of art and its relationship to the political life.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1995
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