“I Pray in No Language but My Own…”

I have many mothers and am blessed by each. My birth mother gave perhaps the most valuable of gifts; my faith.

I do not believe that my mother has faith. I do not know that she ever has, but I do know that she was a devout Catholic for much of my childhood and I spent precious hours in Mass. The presence of my God was there for me in Mass, whether it was for my mother or not.

My mother Goes Her Own Way in all things including religion. Mommy told me when I was young and in love with Mary, the mother of Jesus, that Mary too is divine. My mother believed in a feminist re-visioning of the church, though I doubt she would have called it that.

Mommy would tell me her truth and then suggest it would be best to keep it to my self at school or church.

“The pope is a man. He is not God and he is fallible as are all of us”, she said.

“Women should be allowed to be priests. You want to be a nun, you should be allowed to be a priest.”

Her mother wanted to be a nun. My grandmother, Gladys, married late in life and spent most of her free time with a nun named Sister Wilhelmina. I have the letters written between the two of them; they are love letters to God.

I spent as much time as I could with my first grade teacher, Sister Bernard Anne. I loved her and wanted so to be like her; loving and generous and ever faithful.

As I grew and began to read, I became interested in the religions of the world. My parents supported my curiosity; we went to the Buddhist Temple and visited synagogues.  I was opened up to the Oneness of God and began to realize that my God was the God of the Jewish people, Buddhists, Muslims, Native American People and the women who worshipped the Goddess.

One God for all of us; one God in many forms with many myths and religious traditions and prophets.

The Poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, has written beautifully about God and the oneness of us all. In the last stanza of one of my favorite of her poems,  she reminds me of my mother, a woman open to making her organized religion Larger and able to encompass us all, regardless of the catechism written my men over centuries. My mother made a soup of Faith that gave me room to be Catholic AND faithful in any way that felt true to me:

“A woman opens a window—here and here and here—

placing a vase of blue flowers

on an orange cloth. I follow her.

She is making a soup from what she had left

in the bowl, the shriveled garlic and bent bean

She is leaving nothing out.”

My  mother gave me room to leave nothing out. Naomi Shihab Nye gave words to this truth of my life.

Peace, Jen


by Naomi Shihab Nye

You can’t be, says a Palestinian Christian

on the first feast day after Ramadan.

So, half-and-half and half-and-half.

He sells glass. He knows about broken bits,

chips. If you love Jesus you can’t love

anyone else. Says he.

At his stall of blue pitchers on the Via Dolorosa,

he’s sweeping. The rubbed stones

feel holy. Dusting of powdered sugar

across faces of date-stuffed mamool.

This morning we lit the slim white candles

which bend over at the waist by noon.

For once the priests weren’t fighting

in the church for the best spots to stand.

As a boy, my father listened to them fight.

This is partly why he prays in no language

but his own. Why I press my lips

to every exception.

A woman opens a window—here and here and here—

placing a vase of blue flowers

on an orange cloth. I follow her.

She is making a soup from what she had left

in the bowl, the shriveled garlic and bent bean.

She is leaving nothing out.

Naomi Shihab Nye is a poet and songwriter born in 1952 to a Palestinian father and American mother. She grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas. Both roots and sense of place are major themes in her body of work.

Her first collection of poems, Different Ways to Pray, explored the theme of similarities and differences between cultures, which would become one of her lifelong areas of focus.

Her other books include poetry collections 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, Red Suitcase, and Fuel; a collection of essays entitled Never in a Hurry; a young-adult novel called Habibi (the autobiographical story of an Arab-American teenager who moves to Jerusalem in the 1970s) and picture book Lullaby Raft, which is also the title of one of her two albums of music. (The other is called Rutabaga-Roo; both were limited-edition.)

Nye has edited many anthologies of poems, for audiences both young and old. One of the best-known is This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from around the World, which contains translated work by 129 poets from 68 different countries. Her most recent anthology is called Is This Forever, Or What?: Poems & Paintings from Texas.

Her poems are frank and accessible, often making use of ordinary images in startling ways. Her ability to enter into foreign experiences and chronicle them from the inside is reminiscent of Elizabeth Bishop, while her simple and direct “voice” is akin to that of her mentor William Stafford.

She has won many awards and fellowships, among them four Pushcart Prizes, the Jane Addams Children’s Book award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, and many notable book and best book citations from the American Library Association.

Today Shihab Nye lives in San Antonio, Texas with her family. She characterizes herself as a “wandering poet,” and says that much of her poetry is inspired by her childhood memories and her travels.

Biography by: This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Naomi Shihab Nye.

~ by Step On a Crack on October 21, 2011.

4 Responses to ““I Pray in No Language but My Own…””

  1. Spirituality is so much more important than religion… Thanks, Jen!


    • Religion can and has caused so much trouble (crusades for ONE example) How does that go…

      “Power tends to corrupt, absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.” Too Darn True. Spirituality is a whole other kettle of fish.
      Thanks for Coming Back! Jen


  2. Beautifully put, both your words and Naomi Shihab Nye’s


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: