I met Josina at my Collegeville retreat this summer. I was immediately struck by her beauty, her warmth, and her very sweet way of speaking the TRUTH! Her writing is extremely powerful, and I love this reminder that art means more when we have suffered–which reminds me of the beauty of Christ (Also, I now really need to get this book). Be sure to read more of Josina’s work, and find out more about the amazing community that she is a part of.
Cries of the Spirit edited by Marilyn Sewell
Guest Post by Josina Guess
Perhaps it is cheating to choose an anthology of poetry as the book that changed my life. With more than 300 poems by women from Hildegard of Bingen to Audre Lorde each one speaks across history, ethnicity, geography and class and draws me in to a deeper sense of myself as a woman. I received Cries of the Spirit as a graduation gift from a housemate at Earlham College. I knew so much more then than I do now and sometimes read smugly the voices of cynicism, rage and doubt that cry through these pages which are a “Celebration of Women’s Spirituality.” I was pure, hopeful, idealistic and passionate for Jesus and justice- I wanted more happy and righteous poems. Over the years I have become a wife, mother, witness and bearer of grief and joy that my twenty one year old heart could barely fathom. As experience has made my heart break and harden and crack open once again I read these poems over and over with eyes that always cry at wisdom that transcends what I thought I knew when I first received it.
This book is not Chicken Soup for a Woman’s soul. It is the whole bird: feathers bones and blood, mouth gaping with eyes wide open; the shock of feet with toenails floating in the broth. This book has a flavor so rich and deep – never canned-that is always good medicine for my sin-sick soul. Tough poems on suicide, rape, abortion, domestic violence, divorce and menstruation are joined by tender poems on washing dishes, peeling apples, planting a garden and making love. This book reliably primes the pump of my tear ducts and keeps me feeling in a world that tempts me to go numb and give up.
Now that I have sat with a friend and wept over the divorce papers that finalized the death of a marriage that her husband had been killing for years; now that I have watched my friend carried out of his house in a blue body bag after losing his battle with psychosis; now that I have had a friend tell me of running from gun fire with her baby shot dead on her back; now that I have had my body four times stretched and poured out through the birth of children that keep stretching, pulling and pushing me I see in this book a mirror. This book gives me words when all I have are sighs too deep for words. When my friend’s mother died I emailed her an Alice Walker poem when I had no words of my own to give.
Though Cries of the Spirit is heavy on the pain I am still hopeful, idealistic and passionate for Jesus and justice. Now I can see more clearly that these burdens and blessings we women bear are worth sharing with one another and the one who made, loves and redeems us. It makes the poems that radiate joy, hope, forgiveness and redemption all the more sweet. Gathered in these pages I see myself: white and black, urban and rural, broken and healed. At 35 I know I’ve only just begun. Maybe it has not changed my life as much as help me to articulate life as a woman in all its complexity. As my life and perspective has changed, Cries of the Spirit has given me words to embrace those changes. In some grace-filled moments I find myself writing poems when nothing else will do. I know I have this great cloud of mothers, sisters, grandmothers and friends, whose voices sing through this book- who give me courage to raise my own- to thank.
Josina Guess lives with her husband and their four children at Jubilee Partners, a Christian service community in Comer, Georgia. Josina has written for Conspire, Communities Magazine and Red Letter Christians Blog. Pull up a chair at Josina’s Kitchen Table to read a few more of her thoughts.
Other posts in the Book That Changed My Life series: