Susan Cowger confesses she was the ‘black sheep’ in the family, not quite fitting into the mold of family vocations–nurses, pharmacists, sensible people. Instead, her first language was art, a calling that led to a BA in Fine Art (1977) from Montana State University and subsequent MFA in Poetry with a secondary emphasis in Art from Eastern Washington University in 1997.
Susan is a sculptor, visual artist (oils and watercolor) and a writer. What made her take the leap from two dimensional and three-dimensional work to words?
“Art is often abstract. I wanted to help people enter into the art, so I started writing little poems. It seemed to help,” she said.
Susan later founded Rock and Sling Press and Journal in 2004, a well-received publication in the world of faith writing. Editor and fellow poet Laurie Klein joined the masthead for many years and partnered with Susan in its mission. Rock and Sling’s operations were passed to Whitworth University in Spokane WA in 2010.
Susan has continued her creative expressions in the paths of writing, sculpting and painting and recently published Slender Warble, a collection of poems from Wipf & Stock’s Poeima Series.
The book’s back cover blurb explains the title.
“Within the bewildering paradox of suffering and beauty, we often miss the Invisible One. Never quite what you’d imagine, the nudge of his Presence can be mind-bending. More often, the Almighty gives no more than a slender warble. This collection is about finding the presence of God in spite of and because of the trappings that make us most human.”
The trajectory of the work covers four parts of Cowger’s own faith journey, beautifully summed up in the opening poem here. The arc of her writing includes sections in the book: In the Tunnel has poems that show how one begins to listen for God. Sections Between Two Hands, Is That You? and A Voice Clears, record the way one comes to faith, not in an instant but in a lifetime of awakenings.
Each section of the book begins with a “Weather Report” as she calls it, including the date and time of day, whether it’s early morning or dusk. They also set the tone for each section and frame the poems.
The theme of water weaves through the poems, looming as a powerful, pummeling force in a piece about nearly drowning. Drink and thirst, floating and sinking, as well as the ocean feature frequently; water appears also as “silent drops of dew.”
Cowger’s signature style is punctuation-less, a remarkable feat for an editor and writer. When I asked her about the odd line breaks and spaces instead of periods or commas, she remarked, “It was intentional. I hope to redeem the current ways of communicating. We speak too fast, write in abbreviations, listen only half-heartedly.”
“My poems force the reader to slow down, read with care, pause at the end of each line and breathe. One must pay attention.”
“Light in the Woods” Susan Cowger
Cowger continues to pay attention in her studio in Eastern Washington and shares her art work and poetry online via her beautiful, new website. The tagline? “Art and Poetry are mirrors to see what you love.”
I hope you’ll take a moment to visit, view her work and more importantly, open the door to the possibility of poetry and listen for God’s “slender warble” in your life.
You can find Susan’s book HERE.
To read more of my poetry book reviews and interviews, click HERE
I’ve no chisel but this pen
chipping at paper like stone,
carving words, not to build but bend
graphite like steel, curve the bones
(Dear God, not break) but lay in place and then
form a space to hold a new edifice,
sculpt and rest and tap some more
while You hand me bricks to begin, restore.
The word contemplate is from the Latin, and literally means to carve out a temple, from the two parts-‘com’ and ‘templum,’ i.e. an “intensive space.”
Words are swirling everywhere lately and the voices are l o u d. Seems no matter where I turn there is something to fear whether it’s danger, discord or disease. I feel helpless and wonder if my words will matter, whether what I have to say makes a difference when people are actually dying.
Then I pick up my pen to pour my heart out on the page. God’s quiet whispers remind me to use what’s in my hand. So I “chisel” away the best I can, carving out time and space to hear Him in His temple, this world right where He is.
Did you know that woodchucks (aka the groundhog) and Jesus’ birthday have something in common? On the church calendar, February 2nd is Candlemas, the last Feast Day in the Christian year dated in reference to Christmas.
This celebration of Candlemas marks the presentation of Jesus in the Temple 40 days after his birth (as Jewish custom required), and the purification ceremony of the Virgin Mary at the same time. (Luke 2:29-32). The word ‘Candlemas’ (or Candlemass) refers to the custom of blessing and distributing candles and carrying them in procession before the Mass celebrated in churches in many parts of the globe. The lighting of the candles is symbolic of Christ, the light of the world, as Simeon declared in the Luke passage above.
What does that have to do with a groundhog? An old, old rhyme translated from the Scottish tells us:
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter will not come again.
So, if the weather is ‘fair and bright’ on Candlemas day, you can expect more winter weather. If the day brings ‘cloud and rain’, then the weather in the weeks ahead should improve. And there you have it: another only-in-America observance involving a groundhog predicting the weather with roots in the Christian calendar, anchored in the life of Christ.
But this post isn’t about Christmas or candles or woodchucks–it’s about reading around the Church Year, anchored not only in the life of Christ but our own lives throughout the seasons, months and days in God’s creation.
Here are seven books currently gracing my bookshelves which have accompanied me in my own cycles through the seasons according to Creation and the birth of Christ. These include poetry and essays by writers from the 1800’s–George MacDonald–through the 1950’s and into the present day, all as rich and varied as their authors.
THE CHURCH YEAR
- Sounding the Seasons, 70 Sonnets for the Church Year, Malcolm Guite, Canterbury Press 2012
Candlemas Malcolm Guite
They came, as called, according to the Law.
Though they were poor and had to keep things simple,
They moved in grace, in quietness, in awe,
For God was coming with them to His temple.
Amidst the outer court’s commercial bustle
They’d waited hours, enduring shouts and shoves,
Buyers and sellers, sensing one more hustle,
Had made a killing on the two young doves.
They come at last with us to Candlemas
And keep the day the prophecies came true
We glimpse with them, amidst our busyness,
The peace that Simeon and Anna knew.
For Candlemas still keeps His kindled light,
Against the dark our Saviour’s face is bright.
Malcolm Guite is a poet and priest at Girton College, Cambridge in the U.K. These two vocations dovetail in Sounding the Seasons, making church feasts liturgy accessible to readers who may be less familiar with the church calendar. Guite’s sonnets begin with the season of Advent and read through to the Feast of Christ the King on November 11th. As an Evangelical still learning about the Christian way of marking time, I especially like the Index with Scripture references Guite uses, as well as the correlation to the liturgical calendar.
It’s New Year’s Eve as I sit here in my Seattle dining room, typing with a view to the sky. Things are quiet; only the chimes noising their song outside my window as the gray and muted horizon frames the day. It’s time to be pensive and think deep thoughts, I suppose. Here are some of mine as we end not only this year, but an entire decade.
There are those who relish the action of turning the last page of December’s calendar with the promise of a new start each January. But the invisible leap from one year to the next sometimes is akin to falling over a precipice to an uncertain future. The page turning is dramatic and dreadfully sudden with the only certainty that God will be there to catch us.
I much prefer the slow walk into the New Year the Twelve Days of Christmas (from Christmas day until Epiphany on January 6th) provides. A meandering approach to ease into the days ahead with a look, not to something Brand New and Wonderful but to the slow revelation of who God is in the world.
Which is, of course, what Epiphany means. “A showing forth or manifestation.”
We’ve just celebrated Jesus’ birth–the revelation to His Jewish parents of the Messiah as a child. Epiphany is the event when we observe Christ’s appearance to the rest of mankind as the Magi (Gentiles) came from other parts of the world and left with the message that they had seen the Saviour.
Christ’s birth was a singular occasion–The Word, come to Earth as a babe. But walking out what that means as believers in Jesus–taking that message of salvation to the world much as the Wise Men must have done–is a lifelong journey.
What if instead of a freight-filled, auspicious turn from one year to the next, we evened out our steps a bit with a deliberate and intentional walk through all the days afforded us in Twelvetide?
Instead of making January 1st the beginning of each new year, why not make it simply a resting place along the way in a timetable anchored in the life of Christ, as we anchor our lives in His?
Perhaps I’ll begin observing the New Year on January 7th, walking into the world with the Gospel news that Messiah is here, come to bring health, healing and hope for all.
How about you? What are you going to take into the next season? I’d love to hear in the comments.
(This is an edited version of a recent social media post.) Cheers!
The kingdom of God has been compared throughout the Gospels as everything from a pearl of great price, to a vineyard, a man going on a journey, a mustard seed, a field of wheat and many more.
And if the Kingdom of God had poets, which I’m sure it does, then you’d find their work in the slim volume “In a Strange Land-Introducing Ten Kingdom Poets” from Poiema Poetry Series (ed. DS Martin). Editor Martin explains the occasion of this printing, “This poetry collection gathers into one volume works by ten talented poets who…each (are) well deserving of having their own full-length poetry books, but as of April, 2019 have not quite reached that milestone.”
The Poiema (Greek for ‘a made thing’, or ‘workmanship’) Series is all about “providing a home for the finest poetry by people of Christian faith.”
Contributing poets include: Ryan Apple, Susan Cowger, Jen Stewart Fueston, Laura Reece Hogan, Burl Horniachek, Miho Nonaka, Debbie Sawczak, Bill Stadick, James Tughan, Mary Willis
Until these writers each have their own books, you can find this poetic gathering and enjoy all ten. The selections are rich and varied, as each writer renders from their own perspective a fuller vision of what God’s kingdom looks like. By turns amusing, descriptive, thoughtful and downright take-your-breath-away, we are handed a lens to view a particular version of faith experience as they see it.