ON HEARING THINGS MALE
By Kilian McDonnell
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth . . . a wind from God swept over the face of the waters . . . Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. Genesis 1:1-3
Did the author of Genesis hear Yahweh’s voice
like the rumble of thunder over Mount Zion?
And did the man say to himself, as though spitting
against the wind, this boom must be male?
Male ears hear things male. Even medieval giants
decreed, Whatever is received, is received
according to the mode of the receiver. And if
Yahweh drops her hairbrush in the desert,
who can hear it? And write it in the book?
(Today’s poem appears in God Drops and Loses Things, and appears here today with permission from Liturgical Press and the poet.)
Kilian McDonnell, osb, born in Great Falls, Montana in 1921, has been a monk/priest of St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, MN since 1945. He began writing poetry seriously at the age of 75. He will be 91 in September of 2012. His poems have appeared in America, Minnesota Monthly, Theology Today, American Benedictine Review, ISTI Bulletin, Christian Century, and The National Catholic Reporter. In 2000 Park Press—of Waite Park, Minnesota—published some 30 poems in a promotional volume entitled Adam on the Lam. In 2003 St. John’s University Press published his first book of poetry, Swift, Lord, You Are Not, which also contained a personal essay, “Poet: Can You Start at Seventy-Five?” His second book of poetry, Yahweh’s Other Shoe (St.John’s University Press, 2006) was a finalist in the Minnesota Book Award for poetry. In 2009 he published God Drops and Loses Things, and in 2011 Wrestling With God. For the larger portion of his life Kilian McDonnell has been active as a professional theologian and a university professor. He has taught in the graduate school of theology of St. John’s University and has written, edited, and been published in numerous theological publications and works.
Editor’s Note: During the writer’s residency I recently participated in, “Believing in Writing,” at The Collegeville Institute in Collegeville, MN, I submitted a number of poems from my current project to be workshopped. I am writing a book of poetry that explores and contemplates the feminine in biblical literature. During the workshop, one of my fellow writers asked if my poems are an homage to Father Kilian McDonnell. I had never read “Father Kilian,” as the man lovingly referred to him, and so he pulled all four of his poetry books off the shelf and suggested that I take a look.
I began with Yahweh’s Other Shoe, and within twenty-four hours I had read all four of Father Kilian’s books. I could not believe what I had read. Of all of the poets I know of who are contemplating Judaism in their work, who are contemplating the Torah, who are writing or exploring midrashic literature, I found that I have more in common as a poet with a ninety-year-old Catholic Priest than any other poet I’ve read. I returned my borrowed books to the Collegeville Institute and walked over to the Liturgical Press to buy all four for myself.
Father Kilian truly inspires me. To come into poetry so late in life is impressive in and of itself. But to be a male, a Catholic male, a Catholic priest no less, and be asking questions about the role of women in biblical literature takes an admirable amount of courage and humility. Today’s poem asks one of the most essential questions about the inception of the sublimated role of women in Judeo-Christianity, and I thank Father Kilian for his talent, for his bravery, and for sharing his own questions with the world.
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