“An Open Palm and a Consecrated Life”

When I don’t have other things occupying my mind (and often when I do), I think a lot about language and kinship, about the potential of words to forge new relationships among people and between people and things and thereby to shape new neural, emotional, physical, and social worlds. Because I believe that language has this cosmoplastic capacity, I’m convinced that it has the potential—more than violence and threats of violence—to lead us to better, more sustainable versions of ourselves as individuals, as communities, as nations, and as a species.

In light of Sunday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, I needed to remind myself of my convictions, which inform my writing and my teaching; so, egoist that I am, I turned to an essay I had published on the topic in Sunstone last year: “‘An Open Palm and a Consecrated Life’: Three Meditations on Being-with Others.” The essay explores the implications of a question Adam Miller asks in Letters to a Young Mormon: “The question is, will we greet [the] passing [of everything and everyone we know] with a closed fist or with an open palm and a consecrated life” (75)? My response to Miller grapples with the ethics of state-sponsored violence, lyrics from Emma Lou Thayne, and Enoch’s vision of a God who weeps over human violence.

Here it is. Take my words however you will.

Listening Closely to James Goldberg’s “In the Beginning”

"In the Beginning" on Everyday Mormon Writer
“In the Beginning” on Everyday Mormon Writer (click to enlarge)
(Cross-posted here.)

James Goldberg’s poem “In the Beginning”* exults in orality. It begins, “When he was young, / they read the books / out loud.” But the poet doesn’t revel simply by stating that his experience with language is grounded in the spoken word. He also alludes to the revel-atory power of speech with his title, which echoes John the Beloved’s (later the Revelator’s) witness that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). What we read as “the Word” is here translated from the Greek term logos, which according to Strong means “something said.” So John’s “Word” refers to something spoken, an idea mirrored in the additive, parallel structure of his opening statement, whose coordinate structure (“. . . and . . . and . . .”) parallels the rhythms of spoken language. When translated with the article, as it is in John, “the Word” refers especially to “the Divine Expression,” who is Christ, who was—who existed—“in the beginning,” before taking on flesh, and who did so “with God” and who “was God.” Through this witness of Christ, when heard in conjunction with what we now have as John 1:2–5, it becomes clear that Christ is the Father’s deepest, most creative, most transformative expression to humanity. He is the Father’s promise of salvation spoken through the very structures of the cosmos.

James calls upon these associations from the beginning of his poem with its title and its subject matter, both of which suggest that the sounded word has a transformative effect on those with ears to hear (see Alma 31:5). And he deepens these associations with word-power through the additive, parallel structures of the poem, which mark its essential orality. These structures are evident especially in the repetition of “When he was young”; in the poet’s simple language; in his use of the second person mode of address, which suggests a face-to-face conversation (“You could still. . .”); and in the additive phrasing of the second and third stanzas: “And . . . so . . . and . . . . Then.” Continue reading “Listening Closely to James Goldberg’s “In the Beginning””