« Theology in the Way we live now: a Theopoetics of Life Writing »
by Heather Walton
‘You seem to be still in pain and somehow angry,’ said the nice young man who had travelled all the way from his University on the Eastern edge of Europe (mountains and pine forests) to be with us in Scotland at the theological symposium. He had given his perfectly conventional, well-behaved paper the evening before and it had been warmly received. ‘Also,’ he said, ‘you are writing about experiences in your life that took place nearly twenty years ago.’ He would have been an adolescent boy with sun-bleached hair playing beside a lake. ‘I wonder why they are still unresolved for you.’ — This pleasant boy had looked at me and seen my wounds.
I have always known God. When I was young we talked together in an easy way and liked each other a lot. Belief became passion as I grew into adulthood. I fell in love. I preached. I prayed, I taught the faith. But it was infertility that made me a theologian.
How to describe this? I wanted a child. I longed for a child. These are not adequate words. My limbs were cut off? I was consumed with a fever? Like the girl in cursed, magic shoes every step I took was walking upon broken glass? These images are too crude and dramatic to describe the nature of an intimate suffering that goes with you everywhere; which is tattooed on your skin and inscribed on the lenses of your eyes. Also my infertility extended beyond my body. It reached past me and was connected to the derelict buildings of my neighbourhood, the blasted young lives, the interminable war, the famines and the spreading deserts. It gazed upwards to the endless, cycling rounds of dead, cold stars. — It was the empty page.
But if I could not conceive and carry or give suck I could write. My pain was energy and I wrote and wrote. I hurried home from work to write. In the evenings I sat at the kitchen table, drinking wine with my husband, surrounded by notebooks and pens. Writing was the only thing that helped. But I was not writing smooth words; they were angry and jagged and exposed my loss. — I was writing to God.
I have been writing now these twenty years. The notebooks have become published volumes on library shelves; ‘theology through life writing’. I have a daughter whose grace is beyond words. Her birth is also witnessed to in my writing. Although my laptop has replaced the notebooks I still do my theological work at the kitchen table because for me it is a place of revelation. Here I am centred in the pains and joys what passes through me and goes on around me. Now I see myself as both barren and blessed. And sometimes I think that is the situation of all of us who try to bear truthful witness in our times. I cannot honestly say that the words or the wounds have healed. It is embarrassing when a young man can see this so clearly but what am I to do? These are the wounds I carry and they are the wounds of God.