This Reckless Journey:
Immanence and Transcendence in the Poetry of Jean Janzen
her earliest work as a writer, Jean Janzens poetry has explored the
incarnational dimension of human existence, moving back and forth between her
strong belief in the presence of God in the natural world and spiritual epiphanies
that in some way draw her out of the created order and into another plain of
existence. What Janzens poetry
ultimately reveals is the quest, or yearning, to be both fully present, fully
immanent, within the human body while at the same time to be so completely
filled with the presence of God that she may transcend the limitations of her
But theres something tempting, nonetheless, about seeing poetry in its
movement betweenboth as one of the most important vehicles bearing us upward
and as a way of understanding that ardor precedes irony.
the earths fervent song, which we answer with our own, imperfect song.
A Defense of Ardor
In Selves at Risk:
Patterns of Quest in Contemporary American Letters, Ihab Hassan maps the
various ways that quest informs the attitudes and desires of authors and their
readership. While Hassans goal in this
particular argument is to identify and describe a range of questing patterns
that configure the American psyche, he observes, in the process, that for some
writers the quest is the pursuit of the sublime, transcending the human. Jean Janzen is one
such writer. Because of Janzens own spiritual
faithrooted in Russian Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren rituals and
practicesher art chronicles a personal, as well as communal, negotiation with
the realities of the material and spiritual elements that comprise life as she
perceives it. Much of Janzens poetry presents a
passage through the earthly toward the sublimea hunger for ecstasy that
transcends the crude, dualistic notions of body and spirit, of human and
godhead. Similarly moving beyond duality,
Janzens quest, while embedded within the Mennonite
culture she was born into, is not limited by this particular religious
practice. Instead, we find Janzen embracing her Mennonite faith while at the same time
moving beyond its cultural and theological limitationsin particular, in her
acceptance and celebration of the sacred physicality of her own body and the
body of the earth that makes all life possible.
At times Janzen appears to desire nothing more
than some kind of passage beyond the moorings of her finite existence, a mortal
constraint that leads her to state plainly in the poem Overflow that Our
stories are too big / for our bodies. What Janzens
poetry ultimately reveals is the quest, or yearning, to be both fully present,
fully immanent, within the corporeal frame of her body, while at the same time
to be so completely filled with the presence of God that she transcends the
limitations of that very same blessed physical frame.
From her earliest work as a writerwhich she turned to as a
vocation later in life, after working as a medical secretary and piano teacherJanzens poetry continually, and rhythmically, moves back
and forth between her strong belief in the presence of God in the natural world
and spiritual epiphanies that in some way draw her out of the created order and
into another plain of existence, into another way of seeing. Ecstasythe feeling of being overpowered or
drawn out, what some may even refer to as raptureis integral to Janzens conception of immanence and transcendence. According to Kathleen Norris, In an ecstatic
momentmaking love is a vivid examplewe are most ourselves, and yet not our
ordinary self. Ecstasy is both
resoundingly physical, and deeply spiritual.
And while not many in the
Mennonite church speak freely of ecstasyperhaps its sexual connotations or
explicit connection to pleasure make it a subject few wish to pursueJanzen not only confronts the ecstatic in her poems, she also
appears to embrace it and to assert its primacy in her experience of God. To recognize desire, the erotic, as central
to spiritual experience is important to me, Janzen
explained in an interview with Raylene Hinz-Penner: The
sensual and the spiritual are inevitably intertwined. Certainly this is a bold, even provocative
statement within a mainstream Christian culture that often stifles discussions
of sexuality and seldom, if ever, connects ones experience with God to the
erotic or sexual dimension of living. In
this manner, Janzens poetry is less an exemplar of
Mennonite religiosity and more a hearkening backward to the experience of the
Godhead chronicled by so many pre-Enlightenment Christian mystics.
As one enters the worlds that Janzens
poetry unlocks and explores, it becomes clear that the flora and fauna, as well
as the human lives that interact with the landscape, are for her at once both
physical and spiritual, overflowing with the sensual and erotic, and that the
wedding of these elements is a means by which the poet may experience a portion
of the divine. We all ride / earths
original music, she asserts in Night
Falls on the Neighborhood,
and within the frame of knowing and naming the physical and spiritual, Janzens own particular theology of grace is readily
apparent. For example, as she
contemplates the prodigious, ancient sequoias of the west coast in the poem
Touching Millennia, she confesses that once walking in moonlight I heard
them breathe, long / slow breaths, like the silence / of God loosening in waves
/ around my small shadow. Perhaps not surprisingly, even her use of
painting and musicarts indelibly tied to her practice of poetryis not
antithetical to this process of physical representation; instead, it often
serves to facilitate the very act of writing itself, which for Janzen is an embodied art form. She describes the interaction of these art
formsin this particular instance, poems she has written that were inspired by
the paintings of Vermeeras a way of listening to the landscape, doing the
work (of language especially), reading the landscape of history and art, and
acknowledging the light of the body.
As is the case with
most art, music and painting possess an incarnational
dimension: the body unavoidably becomes
involved in their creation. The elements
that comprise the musicians keyboard or the artists palate, for example, are
drawn from the earth, and the experience of a particular musical composition or
paintingthrough the eyes, ears or fingers of the participantrequires an
embodied presence. Yet at the same time,
the artist may no longer be present in a corporeal sensebecause of
geographical limitations or the finality of deathand in this manner the
artwork itself transcends the finite world of the artists fleshly
existence. As Janzen
contemplates the month of August in her long poem, Naming It: A Garden Cycle,
she cannot, thanks to arts incarnational dimension, escape
the ways her perceptions have been shaped by her previous experiences with
art. Here she focuses upon a cluster of
naked-lady lilies in her garden and recalls how Rubens painted the women of his
day: the weight of their flesh lifting
into cloudy pinks, / buttocks unashamed. Rubenss paintings have been taken in,
literally consumed by the eye and mind of the poet, and now this art is
transformed within her own physical body and used to create yet another kind of
art that also engages with the physical landscape. Janzen concludes
this particular meditation by offering the reader comfort, assuring us that
the smell of earths tilt, / times ooze may be sipped and swallowed on this
day, then sealed in a jar and stored in the cellar of ones own being. More
than enough, she pronounces, referring to what can be saved from this moment
for some later day.
Although art may have its limitations, Janzens own poetry highlights the play between incarnation
and transpersonal existence, or immanence and transcendence, in such a way that
art shapes her and her readers experience of the infinite within the finite.
Immanence and Transcendence
To better understand the
negotiations that are forever at play in Janzens
poetrythe give and take between the desire for immanence and the longing for
transcendenceit may be best to examine her conception of the roles performed
by the body and the world, and the hope and promise her faith offers in some
kind of afterlife. Because such acts of
scholarly dissection artificially represent more holistically conceived ideas,
we do well to keep in mind that Janzens art depends
upon her recognition that such desireslike the bodies we are born intoshould
not be understood as competing in some way against one another. In Getting It Right, Janzen
asks, What have we in us / to want perfection, to think / we can get it
right’ Her question chides not only the poet but also
her readers. Why do we strive for some
unreachable perfection’ As humans, our
knowledge and our ability are limited. To declare an understanding of such
matters would be an act of hubris leading to an inevitable fall. At the end of the poetic day, Janzens lack of any ultimate resolution between immanence
and transcendence within her artistic corpus simply represents the struggle of
our collective (finite) understanding of such ideas in relationship to the
siren song of dichotomy. Dualitys oversimplification as it sorts the
existential contents of life into categories of neither/nor, instead of placing
them into the category-less mystery of both/and, does great harm to our
understanding of the miracle of life. Perhaps this is Janzens
most precious gift: she offers a poetry
of communion with what at first appears to be disparate elements, braiding
them together toward a recognition that the mystery we name as
God transcends any arbitrary linguistic
boundary between material or spiritual.
The Body and the World
surprised we are to find we live here,
within our bodies.
calls us to the things of this world.
For those writers whose work is informed by a Christian faith,
exploring the body through artembracing and celebrating it in all its
needfulness and desirescan sometimes feel like a transgression. Many of us inherit a longstanding tradition
that urges us at best to ignore the blessings of the body and at worst to
demonize those very same blessings.
There is plenty of blame to cast for the denigration of the flesh as
less precious than the spiritual. In
Carnal Acts, Nancy Mairs
contends that the pervasive dichotomy between body and soul, or flesh and
spirit, is reflected in our naming of these ideas as separate entities and in
our hierarchical privileging of one over the other.
In the Western world, Mairs
explains, we say I have a body, rather than I am a body, and in doing so we
widen the rift between the self and the body, making it possible to treat
our bodies as subordinates, inferior in moral status.
To say one
has a body suggests an act of ownership.
In a cultural landscape that increasingly
encourages us to believe that we may possess virtually anything we want and in
turn to discard what we no longer desire, this is a truly frightening
prospect. To be
a body demands that we acknowledge the ways in which we are
rooted in the physical world, to examine how our very flesh shapes the ways we
think and act, to acknowledge that there is no returning or discarding
the bodies given to us at birth for a
refund or an exchange.
Janzens poetry continually explores the multifaceted
dimensions of this crass and often unhealthy dichotomy, insisting that not only
does she have a body but also that
she is a bodyinseparable from
The title of Janzens poem Claiming
the Dust serves as a pointed reminder that we must recognize the earths claim
upon us. From dust we are created and to
dust we shall return. In the poets cosmology,
the Lord has made such dust, imbuing its particles with the sacredness of the
first creation, and has shaped out of dust and the breath of God what we call
Instead of the more popular interpretation of
Genesiss creation story, which would have us believe that a human equals body
+ soul, essayist and poet Wendell Berry claims that God did not make a body
and put a soul into it, like a letter into an envelope.
He formed man of dust; then, by breathing His
breath into it, He made the dust live.
The dust, formed as man and made to live, did not
embody a soul; it became
Thus, the dust of the earth is just as
valuable as the breath of the Creator in Berrys
and Janzens cosmologies. Without one or the other,
no soul exists; there is no human being.
According to ideas found not only in orthodox theology but
also in the field of physics, concerning the ever-transforming nature of energy
and matter, all subsequent acts of creation use and reuse the cosmic energy of
the first creation. In his poem How to
Be a Poet, Berry reminds us that
there are no unsacred places; / there are only sacred places / and desecrated
declares that everything we see is sacred, holy and imbued with Gods presence,
and to neglect any part of creation puts us at risk of desecrating the Lords
work. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Franz
Wright contends that the figure of Christ stands for an awakening to the fact
that all beings are the incarnation of God.
We are all words made flesh. To
be a sentient being, he claims, is to participate in the Incarnation.
Whether it be the act of making another life
through the sacred gift of sexuality, or the deed of putting pen to paper in
the writing of a poem, the original, universal energy of the first creation
continues to run through all matter and all motion.
Annie Dillard explains, in her book For the Time Being, that the Jesuit
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
believed in the incandescence of matterits filling the universe to the
exclusion of all spirit and spirits, and its blazing from within.
It is this blazing from within that Janzen
observes and celebrates in her poem Chicken Guts, from her collection Snake in the Parsonage. The poem is set in Janzens
rural youth and finds her, along with other family members, engaged in the
process of putting up food for the long winter months.
We are told that, after the steam of plums /
and the fuzz of peaches, it is time to can the stewing hens. Her father works with the hatchet at an elm
stump, and the poet scrapes grit out of gizzards in the cellar. Janzen dramatically
captures the elemental activity of taking the life of another to feed ones own
life, a scene that pointedly reminds us that we are rarely intimately connected
with the production of our food. As a
host of writersmost recently Michael Pollan in The Omnivores Dilemmahave pointed out,
the more disconnected we have become from our food sources the more
disconnected we have become from our own bodies. There is something absolutely essential and originary in growing and harvesting ones own food. While such acts do not operate as a magic
elixir that immediately and comprehensively changes how an individual responds
to the sacredness of the material world, such writers as Berry
and David James Duncan contend that it does dramatically increase the
possibility for such a recognition. In The Barn at the End of the World: The
Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd, Mary Rose OReilley laments that the classic texts of spiritual
autobiography too often suppress the body and the created world. To be a spiritual person, do you have to
climb out of your body? she asks.
Clearly, Janzen does not wish to
climb out of her body, nor does she seek to divorce herself from the body of
the earth and all the other precious bodies the earth houses. Janzen is one of
those individuals whose own experiences of the material worldin this case the
taking of life for survival and nourishmenthave helped to foster in her an
attitude of reverence. Although Janzen writes about this ritual with unflinching detail,
including the chop, / the boiling body-dip for defeathering,
the swing / through the singe of fire, she boldly states halfway through the
poem that this is not about death, or violence to animals, / not even about
directs the reader toward an outcome few could anticipate. Its about those intestines / I stripped
into the bucket, she asserts, About how they / could have been saved,
stretched across a hollow, / and made to sing.
the most base part of the chickens anatomy carries the potential for the most
miraculous transformation. The
intestine, or gut, can be strung across her cousin Eugenes cello, and, in
turn, he can make the instrument throb until something throbs in our own
Ultimately, the poem is about the dance that
the material world is forever engaging and with which it is forever attempting
to engage us: The deep stomp that
awakens the bottom / of the lake, the dance I want to do among / the festival
of wild grass and flowers.
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What a sight to behold: a Mennonite
woman, dark purple juice covering her pale cheeks and forehead, up all night,
listening to the earth, joining with it.
And here the rumbling and sighing of the planet have little to do with
discord or despair. This is the sexual
thrum of creations intimacy, the sigh of fulfillment expressed at its deepest,
orgiastic level. This is the primacy of
creation, of communion, the sensual, erotic connection we all may experience
through the blessing of our bodies.
This sensual response to the earth, which for Janzen is also a spiritual response, surfaces throughout
all her collectionswhether it takes the form of the poet clipping a pomegranate,
crushing it and sucking its dark astringencies, then spitting out the seeds;
or, in the wake of death, using the spade, making a shape and fragrance of
the earth in order to taste the center. Her poem Oranges
in a Hard Time recounts midwinter in the hills of Fresno,
when orange trees ripen and drop their fruit.
Janzen describes the oranges as lamp-glow on
the grass and explains that the inevitable mold and mush must follow. But unlike so many of her poems, her state of
mind here suggests a struggle with despair, the absence of the ecstatic
previously discussed: For weeks I let
them fall, / felt their fall.
The hours are sodden and any desire to move has fled the poet; she is
reconciled to let the rot do its work. While this poem ultimately turns away from
such grave and ashen moments, Janzen does not choose
to explain away her despair, to jerry-rig the scaffolding of the poem so that some
deus ex machina
may sweep in and save her, white-washing the truth of her experience. Rather, she confesses that she is unsure of
what draws her back to the vitality of existence, to the animated desire of the
living: But then, what was that turn /
toward light? she asks, and finds herself on her knees gathering / the firm
and golden ones, pulling the oranges from the trees dark hollows.
And to what end does she gather this now-precious fruit’ There is no proselytizing, no sanctified
movement to give the fruit to a neighbor or the destitute, to play
missionary-poet with this unexpected harvest.
Here abundance is simply given by the Creatorthe seemingly nonsensical
excess of the fruitand here is a woman shedding the cloak of despair, filling
her mouth and arms with this ridiculous bounty.
Janzens final image is the ecstatic luxuriance
of the believer awakening to the lush, overflowing love of this world.
In her poem Seeking the Song, Janzen
confronts the ecstasy of this world and its ultimate dissolution into some
other world, some other way of knowing. She
recounts the composer Verdi pacing his room, Violettas
voice leading him into labyrinths where ecstasy / and loss entwine. / Page
after page, / the writing twists, / the search for resolution.
Janzen praises the small rhythms of this world and
the bodies that know such rhythms. She
asks, after observing a canary, What is the path / to the original melody’ But instead of mourning the loss of the
earthly body or the unanswerable questions of our existence, she admonishes her
reader to notice what is gained, / how in those last chords, Love, / older
than the world, gazes at you.
Because of her love for the body
and her strong conviction that the earth is divine, that the physical and the
spiritual are one and the same, Janzen does not
dismiss the artistry of this lifesometimes found in painting, sometimes in
song, sometimes in the written wordbut rather embraces and celebrates it,
revealing its important role in our movement through this life.
Her faith, however, does alter her understanding of what
transpires. In the chords Verdi seeks to
write, Janzen reminds us of the Love that gazes
upon us as we commit ourselves to such acts.
What we choose to do in this time and in this space is of great
importance to the Creator. This life is
not a way-station before we pass on to heaven, nor is it simply some proving
ground to test our spiritual mettle.
This moment is as holy a place as is heaven. Here the originary
love of the universe gazes at us. Nonetheless,
the search for resolution in Janzens Seeking the
Song is and must always be connected to the limitations of our corporeal
frame. At this juncture of our
existence, we may only know the objective reality of our bodies and their
ultimate earthly demise. Therefore,
although Janzen argues for the sacredness of the
flesh and the overturning of a dualistic approach to the provinces of the
spiritual and the material, she cannot escape the weakening of the body as it
ages, our slow diminishment and the encroaching presence of death.
In Piano in the Vineyard, Janzen
combines her love of music with what she perceives to be the spiritual practice
of gardening in order to work toward a better understanding of our physical
death on earth and how the physical dimensions of our existence turn toward
something else, toward some place
else. Recounting how as a child she found solace at the piano in the face of
deathfive clustered crosses for my friendsJanzen moves from Ravel to Chopin to Rubenstein, searching
for reconciliation, for a way to pass gently, even reverently from this good
earth. She says every harvest / is
rehearsal and reminds herself of the often repeated Christian phrase, Lose your life to find it.
Yet there is no righteous simplicity or piety in her litany, no self-assured
spiritual smugness. All the sacred gifts
she has cultivatedmusic, painting, gardeningnow lift her toward a degree of
acceptance. This is the end of
striving, she claims, but not of music. As her husband finds a dead vine and mounts
it on a cross of grapestakes, the poet contemplates
the heft of swollen grapes cut, / branch springing back, leaves flaming and
proclaims that our path is to live in the rhythm of such outpouring, releasing
/ ourselves. Life and death as light as
that, / wheeling between earth and heaven, then spilling over.
It is to this spilling over that
we must now turn, the place to which Janzens faith
things will last forever:
insistence to save what is drifting,
the need to let it go.
Jean Janzen, Looking for the Soul
In The Poetry of Jean Janzen: A
Theological Approach, Laura Schmidt Roberts contends that Janzen
reflects a fundamental conviction of the Christian faith, that truth comes in
paradox: divinity and humanity,
transcendence and immanence, sovereignty and free will, righteousness and
forgiveness, the now and the not yet. While Robertss point is well-made within
traditional theological terms, the beauty of poetry is that such termsand
their inherent limitationsneed not have the finality nor the weight of
conclusion. Indeed, Janzens
poetry moves beyond duality. As Christ
proclaimed, the Kingdom of God
is here, now. This world, which is a
sacred creation, and the world beyond this world, which faith allows us to
believe in, are one and the same, always existing simultaneously. Perhaps in our frailty and limitation we must
divide them linguistically, but the wonder of Janzens
poetry is that at certain moments she is able to unite themvia image and
languagecalling them into being at once. The apocalyptic desire behind this
evocation is similar to Janzens conviction that the
erotic should not be parsed from the spiritual or the spiritual from the
Hassan claims that quests are
imagination and spirit in action. While Janzen
might be hard pressed to explain her own mystical beliefs in clearly rational
or orthodox terms, the amalgamation of imagination, spirit and her position as
a Christian in a particular historical and cultural moment enable her to speak
about a hope in some life beyond this life, in what for millennia many have
named heaven. In her poem Sun Crest, after walking the
dusty rows of peach orchards and eating the sweet fruit, Janzen
acknowledges that this earth, worn carpet, is only home for awhile. The only home the poet has ever known,
however, is the earth, and her
practice as an artist must be indelibly linked to the physicality of this
place. Still, within the faith to which
she has clung since childhood, Janzen has heard
Christs oft repeated claim that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. In God
Laughs and Plays, David James Duncan asserts that mystics stress not the
gulf but the astonishing intimacy between humans and God.
Mystical yearning . . . is played
out in vividly physical bodies, Duncan
explains, yet for all their beauty, these bodies are not just mortal objects: they are the essence of the holy homeland and
gifts and mysteries of God.
This holy homeland and the
connection it makes between heaven and earth lie at the root of Janzens yearning and faith. Because of this conviction, her poems are
forever attempting to translate and to join the space between immanence and
transcendence. She is notas a good
Calvinist poet might beultimately longing to move from the profane to the
sacred, but, rather, as a good Anabaptist with mystical leanings, she longs to
connect the sacred to the sacred, the divine to the divine, to see heaven and
earth entwined in hallowed consecration.
As early as Snake in the
Parsonage (1995), Janzen employs images from the
natural world, as well as narratives that grow out of the natural landscape, to
suggest some kind of release into a life that comes after death. In Wild Grapes, she depicts her grandfathers
last pain-filled days, emphasizing that, despite the torment of his body, he
remained grateful for the things of this world.
She explains how she has known others who, at the end, / crushed the
flesh of nectarine against / the dry palate, or swallowed bits / of cake, eyes
brimming. For her grandfatherwho loved God, / who
would go to himthis
yearning after the things of the world is represented by his thirst for wild
grapes from a distant creek. Even at the
end of life, her grandfather and, in turn, Janzen
perceive the indescribable beauty, the sacred and spiritual nature of the
And, as the poet notes, the only proper response, even as one approaches the
life we pray comes after this life, is to eat and love the fruit this world
bears up for us.
Janzens notions of resurrection are
based upon her experience and observation of it in this world. Because she has not passed over yetnor does
she claim celestial visitations from the other sideher key point of access to
the idea of rebirth and resurrection is grounded in the cyclical patterns she
observes in nature. For example, in the
poem Sometimes Hope, collected in Snake
in the Parsonage, Janzen describes a summer of
mountain wildfires, when for weeks ashes fall like rain, making the air nothing
but a dark haze. When the fires cease,
all that can be seen is the smoldering wreckage of the giant / black slash
with stumps / in grotesque postures, / acres and acres where nothing / moves or
sings, where / nothing waits.
But out of this earthly carnage,
the poet tells us, there is a reach for something / extravagant, something
holy; from this death there is a new greening, / shoots everywhere breaking /
through the crust of ash. Similarly, in the poem Going West, which
recounts the immigrant passage of her father, Janzen
considers her ancestors staring out / over the Baltic, and through this
connectionboth to the flesh of her forebears and to the landscape that
sustained themshe envisions somewhere beyond, a place, as she puts it, that
we glimpse / in prayers, in sexual ecstasy, in pain. Whether in the green shoots of raspberry that
reclaim the burnt forest floor or in the physical acts of prayer, pain, or
sexual ecstasy, Janzen believes that she is given a
foretaste of the kingdom that awaits her beyond this present kingdom.
Hassan suggests that the originary mystery invites even as it defies our knowledge. Likewise, Janzen
claims that all of us are thirsty for the unknown, that we long to cross
over into that country / without map or tools, / to touch the source, / to
kneel down and taste it. In
her poem Child Diving, she builds upon this theme by recounting in stark
relief the reckless joy of a child as he leaps out into the air, arcing his
body, holding his breath for the plunge, and then rising once again to the
surface for yet another dive. Although
the child, in his exuberance, gashes his head and must be taken to the doctor
for stitches, it is not the failure of his mortal frame that catches Janzens poetic gaze, but rather her own bodys memory of
the ecstasy of falling, although / imperfectly into a perfect sky, / loving
even its bordersa place to fall and to be held. Such a desire connects to the popular view
that heaven in some physical way lies beyond the clouds, in the sky somewhere. In this poem, Janzen
offers a gesture toward heaven, a longing to fall into a perfect sky, to be
held in the presence of the Creator. Of
course, Janzen could conceive of none of this if it
were not for her belief, her faith, and, accordingly, Hassan
offers a reminder that belief is indeed central to quest.
At the heart of the faith for many Christians is a quest for
Goda yearning to come into eternal contact with the creative energy of the
universe, to enter into the peace of heaven.
Such longing is seen in Janzens elegy for her
mother, when she says of the Shenandoah Valley and, in
turn, of heaven: such a place / as this, where you hold me / and let me go. /
Where I will find you again. Elsewhere, Janzen
echoes Pauls reference to the book of life in his epistle to the church at Philippi
when she suggests that our markings loosen out of time and are held in the
place we enter after death. / That book of leaves. / And on the front, our
names. It is telling that, when Janzen
was asked to participate in Christian
Centurys ongoing favorite-poem project, she chose Mary Olivers White Owl
Flies Into and Out of the Field. As
this poem about an owls hunt on a snowy day concludes, Oliver tells us that
darkness is but so much light / wrapping itself around us . . . in which we
are washed and washed / out of our bones. Janzen, responding
to this poem, says that one of Olivers supreme gifts is her ability to find
language for rapture as she responds to nature and our place within it. Moreover, Janzen reveals
that this poem enlarges my faith in the resurrection, and calls me to release
myself more freely to the Light in my everyday life.
In Amazing Grace: A
Vocabulary of Faith, Kathleen Norris observes that the concept of heaven is
apparently irresistible to the human spirit. As she explains, otherworldliness can be a
real temptation in the religion, but the Incarnation itself is a corrective. .
. . Even at feasts such as the
Ascension, which might seem otherworldly, the scripture texts for the day are
As Norris points out, the passage from Acts 1:11Why
stand ye gazing up into heaven’seems to prod the faithful back toward the
matter at hand: the here, the now, the
earth and our business upon it. The mortal
frame of Janzens present body, the earth and its finite materiality, are not
something to be denigrated or escaped.
In some means beyond her ken, the kingdom of God is within her and the
kingdom of heaven is at hand; it is a matter of both/and rather than either/or. Perhaps this is the only sadness that plagues
the poet: the inability to see as God
sees, to have a sustained vision of the world as one, heaven and earth
conjoined. This is the reckless
journey Janzen speaks of as she washes her newborn in the poem of the same
namethe space between immanence and transcendence, the holy blessings of this
life to which she bears witness in her poems, the ardor to which she clings so
*Todd Davis is associate professor of English and
Environmental Studies at Penn State
at Risk: Patterns of Quest in Contemporary American Letters (Madison, Wis.:
University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), 20.
. Jean Janzen, Tasting the Dust (Intercourse, Pa.
: Good Books, 2000), 18.
. Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (New York: Riverhead, 1998), 231.
. Jean Janzen, interview by
Raylene Hinz-Penner, Mennonite Life (Dec. 2000),
. Janzen, Piano in the Vineyard (Intercourse, Pa.: Good Books, 2004), 56.
. Ibid., 59.
. Janzen, interview with Hinz-Penner.
. Janzen, Piano in the Vineyard, 29.
. Janzen, Tasting the Dust, 30.
. Nancy Mairs, Carnal Acts (New York: Harper, 1990), 84.
. Wendell Berry, Sex,
Economy, Freedom & Community (New York:
Pantheon, 1993), 106.
. Wendell Berry, Given:
Poems (Washington, D.C.: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005), 18.
. Franz Wright, interview by Ilya
Kaminsky and Katherine Towler,
Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion
51 (2006), 75.
. Annie Dillard, For
the Time Being (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), 122.
. Mary Rose OReilley, The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd (Minneapolis: Milkweed, 2000), xii.
. Jean Janzen, Snake in the Parsonage (Intercourse,
Pa.: Good Books, 1995), 17.
. Janzen, Tasting the
Dust, 11, 66-67.
. Ibid., 8.
. Janzen, Piano in
the Vineyard, 64.
. Janzen, Piano in
the Vineyard, 65.
. Ibid., 67. Italics
in the original.
. Ibid., 68.
. Laura Schmidt Roberts, The Poetry of Jean Janzen:
A Theological Approach, Migrant Muses:
Mennonite/s Writing in the U.S.,
ed. John D. Roth and Ervin Beck (Goshen, Ind.:
Mennonite Historical Society, 1998), 195.
. Hassan, Selves
at Risk, 46.
. Janzen, Tasting the
. David James Duncan, God Laughs and Plays: Churchless Sermons in Response to the Preachments
of the Fundamentalist Right (Great Barrington,
The Triad Institute, 2006), 21.
. Janzen, Snake in
the Parsonage, 57.
I should note that, for many Christian traditions, this focus upon the earth in
the face of the promise of heaven would seem at best ungrateful and at worst
heretical, a negative view toward the earth grounded in what I contend are the
weaknesses of a dualistic perspective.
. Janzen, Snake in
the Parsonage, 63.
. Ibid., 25.
. Hassan, Selves
at Risk, 51.
. Janzen, Piano in
the Vineyard, 61.
. Janzen, Piano in
the Vineyard, 54.
. Hassan, Selves at
. Janzen, Tasting the
. Ibid., 25.
. Mary Oliver, New
and Selected Poems (Boston: Beacon, 1992), 99-100.
. Jean Janzen, Favorite Poems, The Christian Century, March 9, 2004, http://find-articles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_5_121/ai_114243160.
. Norris, Amazing
. Ibid., 368.