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Ron Starbuck & the Poetry of Divinity

When I was in high school, writing my first, ridiculously bad poetry, and ripe with feelings of depth and spirituality, my school chorus sang the Latin hymn Kyrie Eleison at our winter concert. I remember the way the song felt so strange and beautiful in my mouth and seemed to reverberate and electrify the air. I had just begun to identify then what would become my lifelong concept of God. All I knew then was it had to do with red rock canyons, the wooded passes of the Jemez mountains, the old City of Jerusalem where my father had taken me at age 13, and where we had stood at the Western Wall, and prayed. Singing that hymn had something to do with it too. God felt big and could give you goose bumps, get stuck in your throat.

I was reminded of this feeling reading Ron Starbuck’s book of poetry, There’s Something About Being an Episcopalian. The collection hums with a sense of profound reverence. And in his poem about that hymn, he ponders the location of the spirit, which he, also has heard wailing at the Western Wall, and heard in the clack of walking on the cobblestones of the old city, in seen all over in the stained glass windows of churches and, of course, in images of Christ. He concludes, in the poem, that God may feel present in places but that ultimately resides in the soul: “resting in themselves/as an indwelling of/the Spirit/the Holy Spirit.”

Many of these poems are like hymns themselves. They have the same incantatory feeling, one can easily imagine them set to music or libretto. They have that same breathless glow of Kyrie Eleison, sung by a choir of angelic high school girls. They are poems that want to sing, and do. The poem On the Third Morning, in particular, begs for organ accompaniment and a choir, giving sweet vocalization to the stanza:

He has Risen, He has Risen!

He has risen from the places of the dead and dying,

He has risen from the solitude of the tomb.

He has Risen, to his Father and our Father.

He has Risen, to his God and our God.

Hallelujah, Christ is Risen!

Yet Starbuck’s poems are in no way confined to Christianity, or his Episcopalian faith, despite the collection’s title. He describes the poems of the eleventh century Persian poet, Rumi, as being “with us still,” noting that we still breath the air he breathed, eat food grown in the same earth he walked. The “essence of his verses/floating like seeds of light/locked inside the molecules from his/body and being in the very water we drink.”

Further, he strives here to make the connection between the Gods of all faiths, the sense of the divine in every religion. He sees a man waving a traffic flag inscribed with the word “Jesus” and envisions a Tibetan prayer flag. He aims to “see through the eyes of Buddha & Jesus”—the title of his book’s second section, in which, in the poem A Mockingbird’s Song, he examines the “one human family” and the way in which “we come to see Christ/and even the Buddha/alive in one another.”

He talks about the consuming the Eucharist. He talks about feeling filled with light and love and the sense of the glory and passion of Christ. And the poems really do transfer his sense of the beauty of divinity and elevate it.

No matter what faith we follow, or even concoct on our own, God is in us and we are in God. I found this to be the take away of Starbuck’s reverential collection. This message telegraphed to me in so many of these incantatory poems that examine, pay homage to, and paint the concept of divinity, in a variety of stunning hues.

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