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The Cheerleaders: On Poetry and Faith

by Brian Nixon

Telepoem Booth at CCA Santa Fe

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO (ANS)—Pick up a phone.  Dial a number.  Listen to a poem.  These were the instructions for the Telepoem Booth, an art exhibit at CCA Santa Fe by Elizabeth Hellstern.

To be a tad more specific, the first instruction read (after explaining how to use a rotary phone): “Locate a Telepoem number in the Telepoem Book.” Then, “Pick up the hand set.”

The Cheerleaders

I do as instructed, and locate Albuquerque Poet Laureate Michelle Otero’s The Cheerleaders. I pick up the hand set, dial the number—(505) 683-2433, and listen to Otero read the poem. The Cheerleaders uses cheer-leading as a metaphor for life.  My wife, Melanie, and I share the phone as we listen. As expected, the poem was marvelous, as was the Telepoem experience.

Telepoem Booth

Telepoem should be mandatory in every city in America.

I’ve written elsewhere about the significance of poetry, found here and here. So no need to extrapolate on poetry’s importance.

Gotta Have Faith

But upon listening to Otero’s poem, I’m reminded of something else: poets have much to say about life and faith, in addition to the marvelous and beautiful verse he or she creates.

Case example:  After digging a little deeper on Michelle Otero’s blog, I locate a series of prose writing (not poetry) about faith and the Savior.  The blog name is The Savior (Gotta Have Faith). I was intrigued.  And though I don’t agree with all her sentiment, I found her thoughts to be engaging.

Like a Good Novel, It is Earned

Concerning her sadness over the Catholic Church—and a particular priest she heard, Otero writes, “I would never leave the Catholic Church for another. I would miss the ritual, the songs, the liturgical calendar, communion, the sacraments. I would miss the bloody saints, the reverence, the solemnity of Christ’s suffering, a suffering we share in the breaking of bread, and I would miss the joy that follows that suffering because, like the denouement of a good novel, it is earned.”

Marvelous thought: “like a good novel, it is earned.” So true of the church. Though filled with broken people, it continues to shape our society, sounding forth God’s love for the world.

Albuquerque Poet Laurette, Michelle Otero

Continuing, Otero concludes, “I still feel at home dipping my fingers in a holy water font, still feel drawn to ritual and sacrament, to Good Friday mass, leaving the church in silence as the white cloth is gathered from the altar and folded. I am learning the newer mass parts (though “consubstantial” will never sound right to me). Pope Francis gives me hope. (Favorite quote so far: “Who am I to judge?”). As with the fire, building my faith was never about trying to recreate my old life, but about creating and recreating with what remains: the ancient, the acequia, el mestizaje, the word.”

There’s lots of lovely words in the paragraphs–and more should be commented upon, but it’s the truth Otero communicates that is all the more beautiful:  keep the faith, even with the Church (Roman Catholic; and I’d add Protestant and Orthodox) under deep scrutiny in the world today.

Keeping the ancient faith—the water it brings (acequia), with its tensions and ambiguities (el mestizaje) is worth it.  Why?  Because it communicates the Word (Jesus) and word (scripture).  It brings faith, hope, and love.

The Savior

So more than just a poem using cheerleaders as a metaphor for life, Otero, through her prose, gives us something to cheer-lead about:  The Word, the ancient faith—ambiguities and all, as delivered through the men and women. This word is water for a parched world; hope, the soothing love of the Savior.

And the hope the Savior brings is a number worth dialing; we gotta have faith in the call.

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