In My Father’s House are Many Mansions, will be a new book of poetry and prose I hope to begin writing and gathering together soon. The collection will include updated contemporary sermons originally written by my father, accented with other art, poetry, and prose written as an artistic response. There is likewise a third book of poetry waiting to be gathered together, placed in order, and eventually published.
My father, Robert P. Starbuck, M.Div., PhD, was a practicing psychotherapist for over 40 years and a Protestant clergy for over 50 years. Through him and my mother, I learned to love and value literature, plays, philosophy, and theology in many forms. The book’s title of course is drawn from the Gospel of John.
John 14:2 ~ 21st Century King James Version: In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
Every book and every poem tell a story, and have a story hidden between the words and verses within each poem. This is a small part of one book’s story. The story of each poem would take pages and pages that I will not reveal to you here today. This piece is not about a new book or an old book, it is about the mystery of relationships.
In early 2013, Saint Julian Press published When Angels Are Born, my second book of poetry. The timing was far from perfect and we never really had time to actively promote the book or seek book reviews. A few excellent reviews were written. Ones I am certainly proud to share, written by fellow poets and artists, Adele Kenny, Lois P. Jones, Gayle Greenlea, and Leila A. Fortier.
At the time, my mother was in ICU, recovering from a serious case of pneumonia that she had developed during the Christmas holidays. She was literally in the hospital and recovery for many weeks. My father and other members of our immediate family were there by her side every day, every step of the way.
My father in particular was emotionally and physically exhausted, he was so very afraid of losing her, we all were. In early February, she was eventually able to come home, but her full recovery was weeks, actually months away. I suspect that at some microscopic and internal level all this took a terrible toll on my father who was 86 years young, and his immune system. We can never know for certain.
In late February, after being ill himself off and on for a few weeks, we took him to the emergency room at Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center here in Houston. What they diagnosed was acute myeloid leukemia. Within two weeks, after an initial of round of moderate chemotherapy that was devastating, he was gone. His eighty six year old body simply gave out on him. My entire family was overwhelmed with grief, we are all close, and we were all close to my father.
I am very thankful and grateful that he was able to see and read a copy of When Angels Are Born. To see and understand the work and what I was trying to share with the world. Dad was one of my leading enthusiasts, he was always encouraging and something more. He saw, as I was beginning to see, something being revealed about me as a person, something that had always been there, the actualization of a hidden dream and deepest calling of the soul.
So much of the work coming from what he and my mother had taught me to appreciate and value throughout my childhood and beyond as an adult who was drawn to great writing and spiritual views from an interfaith dialogue that I had been involved in for many years; drawing on that knowledge deeply and perhaps an even higher creative-consciousness when writing the poems.
When reading the back cover blurbs and endorsements generously provide by poet and actress Hélène Cardona; theologian Paul F. Knitter, who at the time was the Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture, and a leading theologian of religious pluralism at Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan, NYC; and Fr. Laurence Freeman the Director of the World Community for Christian Meditation centered in London. He commented that these are great individuals.
He knew of Paul and Fr. Laurence’s work and writings well, because I had shared their books with him and written about them both for Parabola Magazine two years earlier. And he knew how they are both instrumental in encouraging a radical openness and acceptance in a global interfaith dialogue. My father loved Parabola Magazine, and was proud of the Tangents I had written and the relationship I had as friends and spiritual teachers with both men that aided that endeavor.
My father was equally enamored and charmed by the intelligence, scholarship, and talents of poet and actress Hélène Cardona. Hélène is not only a very talented poet and actress, but also a Henry James scholar with a Master’s in American Literature from the Sorbonne in Paris. She writes and translates in English, French and Spanish, and is also fluent in German, Italian and Greek. As an anam cara (soul friend) she helped me enormously with the final edits for When Angels Are Born.
My gratitude for the support and encouragement of Hélène, Paul, Fr. Laurence, and my father can never be adequately expressed, such gratefulness goes beyond all words, as does my appreciation for everyone who wrote a review or offered a kind and sincere comment. What is hidden here is another story, perhaps for another time. But, it might help for you to know that before 2010, I had never met or had a conversation with Hélène, Paul, or Fr. Laurence.
In finally reading When Angels Are Born, I think my father was simply astounded at the work and its quality, as perhaps other members of my immediate family were as well. This was not the son, brother, or uncle they had known all their lives. It was something very new, very different, something they didn't quite recognize and had to adjust to in their mental images. As did I in my own sense of self and identity, trying to maintain a simple humility of spirit and thanksgiving; it takes time you see.
I suspect that for some, adjustments are still going on today. Our families and closest friends, the people who have known us for years and years, know us at a completely different level than we are known professionally, or as poets and writers. An echo perhaps of, no prophet (or poet) is truly seen or known in his own long-standing society of family and friends. They know your faults too well, and love you in spite of them all.
Why am I thinking of this today? Because, within the last year, presently, and in the very near future I have been and will continue to work with at least four poets in publishing their first books through Saint Julian Press.
Last fall we published Fred LaMotte’s first book of poems titled Wounded Bud. The most recent one is I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast by Melissa Studdard. The newest one to be published in November 2014 is Numinous by Leila A. Fortier. There are at least two or three more books by other poets we’ll be working on through the winter and spring.
Every day I am a witness to the utter miracle of this process, and the very hard work it takes day in and day out. Every day is a reminder and in many ways a remembrance of where it all began.
It began with my mother writing poems when we were children, and then my father sharing them in a sermon. It began when I was a very small boy and heard my first nursery rhyme or fairy tale. It began when I heard my father recite a Robert Frost or Carl Sandburg poem, or parts of a Tennessee Williams, William Inge, or Arthur Miller play, and so many other brilliant poets and playwrights. And it began with some of the teachers who encouraged in me an appreciation for the arts, literature, drama, and the spoken word.
It begins also with my wife Joanne, my soul-mate in this life we share together, and the many friendships and relationships we share with others. Certainly through our involvement at Trinity Episcopal Church in Midtown Houston, where we were married, still attend, and are actively involved. And in many other relationships too, surprising in their spiritual intimacy, and with all the people who have and will be touched by Saint Julian Press. The human spirit and Holy Spirit are boundless, calling us into new relationships every day.
I am astounded at the relationships we have in this world, how unexpectedly doors will open, and how new people and close friendships arise out of the mystery of creation. There is a conversation I recall once with Paul Knitter over a dinner when I was visiting him at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
In it we spoke of the marvelous interconnections that form between people and how they often arise and form. In his book, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian, in writing about Thich Nhat Hanh’s idea of “interbeing,” Paul tells us that understanding God through relationships is critical and that the source and power of our relationships is driven by the presence of the "Holy Spirit."
If I may paraphrase Paul, the importance of this concept is summarized by this: “behind and within all the different images and symbols we may use for God – Creator, Redeemer, Word, Spirit, - the most fundamental, the deepest truth we can speak of God is that God is the source and power of our relationships."
I think this is true in all faiths, with all of life. We may call it by another name or use another metaphor or image if you wish, but for me it is simply a mystery, or a very intimate divine memory that draws us to one another. I can easily live in that mystery, accept it fully and watch it be revealed fully in and with and through all of you as our lives unfold together.
October 12, 2014
Book Review Hyperlinks
1) Tiferet Journal by Adele Kenney – July 2013
2) The Loch Raven Review by Lois P. Jones
3) Leila A. Fortier ~ March 31, 2014
4) Gayle J. Greenlea ~ February 14, 2014
Notes & Links
When Angels Are Born
Hélène Cardona is a poet, actor, linguist, literary translator, dream analyst, author of Dreaming My Animal Selves (Salmon Poetry), winner of the Pinnacle Book Award and the 2014 Readers’ Favorite Award in Poetry; The Astonished Universe (Red Hen Press); and Life in Suspension, forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2016. Ce que nous portons (Éditions du Cygne), her translation of What We Carry by Dorianne Laux, came out in September 2014. She also translated Beyond Elsewhere by Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac.
Hélène holds a Masters in English & American Literature from the Sorbonne, taught at Hamilton College & Loyola Marymount University, and received fellowships from the Goethe-Institut & Universidad Internacional de Andalucía.
She is Main Editor of Dublin Poetry Review and Levure Littéraire, and a multiple-time Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. Other publications include Washington Square, World Literature Today, Poetry International, The Warwick Review, The Dublin Review of Books, The Irish Literary Times, The Los Angeles Review, and many more.
Acting credits include Chocolat, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Hundred-Foot Journey, X-Men: Days of Future Past, etc. For Serendipity, she co-wrote with director Peter Chelsom and composer Alan Silvestri the song Lucienne, which she also sang.
Paul F. Knitter - Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian, Oneworld Publications
Union Theological Seminary Biography - Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture
Union in Dialogue: http://unionindialogue.org/2011/06/05/the-miracle-of-mindfulness-and-the-miracle-of-being-in-christ-jesus/
Fr. Laurence Freeman
First Sight: The Experience of Faith
WCCM site: http://www.wccm.org/content/laurence-freeman-osb
Ron Starbuck is an author, poet, the Publisher-CEO of Saint Julian Press, and an Episcopalian.