Thursday, January 27, 2011

My Son, Episcopal Deacon and Poet

One of the joys of writing a blog is that you can say what you want to say. That said, this blog has little to do with health reform. Today, I shall talk about my son, Spencer, a nationally known poet who was ordained as an Episcopalian Deacon last evening at the Marquand Chapel at the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale.

The ordination was an impressive ceremony. It lasted an hour and a half, and a large group of clergymen were there, including the most Reverend Leo Frade, Bishop of Southeast Florida and his wife, Dr. Diana Frade, founder of Our Little Roses Orphanage in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Connecticut and other clergy notables.

The tone of the ceremony was civil, as opposed to the rough and tumble of our political discourse. The litany was filled with such phrases as “that our divisions may cease and that all may be one,” “that a spirit of respect and forbearance may grow among nations and peoples,” and called “for those in positions of public trust, especially Barack, our President, our justices and legislators, that they may serve justice and promote the dignity and freedom of every person.”

Just a word, if I may , about Spencer’s recent history. He has served as a seminarian at Christ Church in Westerly, Rhode Island, and at Saint Luke’s in New York City. In both churches, he has collaborated in the weekend services and conducted Sunday poetry groups.

At Westerly, he led a highly successful, widely-attended, area-wide seminar “Finding Our Spirit in Poetry.” James Franco, the Hollywood actor and director, made his poem “The Clerk’s Tale,” into a short film that was shown at closing ceremonies at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010.

In addition, he spent two months at Our Little Roses Orphanage in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where he learned a little Spanish and taught water coloring to the girls at the Orphanage. This week he was notified he was a finalist for a Fullbright scholarship to serve as a priest at the Orphanage and a teacher of poetry at the University of Honduras.

Here are excerpts from a previous blog I wrote in 2008,

Usually fathers teach sons. For me, the reverse is true. My son taught me what I thought I knew.

My son, Spencer, a well-known poet, will enter Yale Divinity School this fall. Three years later, he will emerge an Episcopalian priest.

He attended Bowdoin for two years, graduated from Wesleyan, and earned Masters from York University in England and Harvard Divinity School.

He toiled for 12 years at Brooks Brothers, first in Minneapolis, then in West Palm Beach and Palm Gardens. During the day he plied the retail trade. In off-hours he composed poetry.

Publishers rejected his book of poems 300 times. Spencer persisted. Then, Louise Gluck, America’s poet laureate, spotted his work. She put in his name for the Bakeless Prize at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. He won. His book of poetry, The Clerk’s Tale, was published in 2004

Gates opened. Fame followed. He read before the Library of Congress, won a Guggenheim and other prizes, and recited at leading universities and book fairs. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and major Florida papers interviewed him. The American Poetry Review adorned him with a full page picture on its cover, and his poem, “The Clerk’s Tale, appeared in The New Yorker. He became known as the Bard of Brooks Brothers.

My wife and I attended two of his poetry readings. We came away with these impressions.

1) Poetry is big.

2) Spirituality is back.

3) Materialism is out.

4) People seek hope.

5) Rejection inspires.

A Father’s Learning Curve

What I have learned?

Importance of humility. At York, Spencer studied humility in works of Renaissance poets, George Herbert (1593-1633) and John Donne (1572-1631). Humility shines through in Spencer’s readings. People like humility in this age of celebrity self-centeredness and quests for instant fame.

Power of language. You see this in Barack Obama’s speeches. In Spencer’s case you sense it in his poetic imagery. Here he describes how a mother reacted to her baby’s death in hospice, “The mother walked out of the room, her arms slackening at her side like old latches on the door of an abandoned house.”

Dignity of death. As Spencer explained to me, “Dad, all people want as they lay dying is the sense their lives meant something – even if only to themselves.”

Perhaps that’s what John Donne meant when he said,,

” Death be not proud, though some have called
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so,
For those whom thou think’st thou dost
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst though kill me.”

Spirituality to medicine. People thirst for spirituality. One hundred of America’s 150 medical schools now have spirituality as part of required courses. People are recognizing science and technology have limits, end-of-life care has a spiritual side, hospice care is relevant, managed care offers little solace, holistic medicine is here to stay. Americans and doctors are maturing in their attitudes towards aging, disease, and death. Machines will not get us out of this alive once the end nears.

When my time comes, I will rejoice. People like my son. Spencer, will be there to comfort me, tell me I meant something, and guide me to what beckons beyond.


TOM HARDIN said...

Well, friend, you've done it again. Another nice blog about Spencer. it doesn't seem to be three years since the first one.

We are so fortunate to have our children be so successful. I've said for many years our two sons "made it" in spite of us--although we did work at it. We are fortunate we are still very close. I'm sure you and Loretta feel the same way.

Janel said...

Oh my god, there's a lot of effective material in this post!