From the Pulpit
I was raised without religion, but this doesn’t mean I didn’t go in search of sermons. I love the idea of a sermon. A holy man or woman gathers a group of people together and says, “You are always loved. Also, fear nothing.” Then everyone gets up and eats doughnuts and leaves thinking, “Now what did he say I had to do to be loved? And what was I supposed to be afraid of?” Which is why we need sermons. The daily business of life can invert things in our mind, casting into doubt what we knew the day before. And so back we go to our holy men and women who say, “Honestly, you are always loved. Also – and I mean it this time – fear nothing.”
But as I said, I was raised without religion. So instead I had poetry. Also, The Beatles. I would find myself adrift in life, my entire world inverted, and I would summon a sermon. What was it about love again? It’s all you need. Right. And what about death? Do not go gentle into it. Got it. It is so easy to forget sometimes what you already know.
I was 21 when I learned that the “You” in You Light Up My Life was Jesus. I had assumed it was a love ballad, which I guess it was, which then made me wonder if there was any difference at all between love songs and hymns. I suspected there wasn’t, though I decided it would be wisest to keep this to myself, especially, as I said, since I was raised without religion. The heathens have a way of spoiling Sunday.
I should mention that my father graduated from Harvard Divinity School. By the time I arrived on the scene, however, God was quite out of the picture. No matter. Such intentions have a way of hanging around and hanging around until they find their truest form. When I wrote my first poems my father told me they were pretentious, which – honestly – they weren’t. So I explained them to him, and then he didn’t think they were pretentious anymore.
“Explaining” a poem is a little tricky, though, isn’t it? You sound a bit like someone trying to explain God. I kept it simple that day – This one’s about a ship captain; this one is me complaining about my complaining – which was enough for my father. All the better, I decided. Let him make up his own mind about them now. A poem, after all, should live within you if it’s going to do any good. There it can join all that you know but must be reminded of from time to time.
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