POETRY FROM A PRINCETON SABBATICAL


BY BARBARA A. CHAAPEL

Being left-handed could be one reason why Adrian Lane (Th.M., 1999), an Australian and recently published poet, identifies with Christians in the global south. He begins his poem “Left-handers” with the line “We’re a little different—left-handers.”
 
He finds the church in the global south a little different, too. “Christians in countries in Africa and Asia approach the faith with more originality than we often do in the West,” he says. “They have to work out how to contextualize the Christian faith for their regions, to learn how to indigenize their expressions of faith.”

Another reason Lane is drawn to the global south is his friendship with classmates from Princeton, like Manoj Shrestha (Th.M., 2001, and now a Ph.D. student). Shrestha is Nepalese and principal of Nepal Ebenezer Bible College in Kathmandu. Lane calls him “the most strategic person in Nepalese Christianity.”

 

 SNOW

At last the snow has come.

Snowstorm warnings have sent men into mouseholes.
Sleet has turned to soft cotton wool flakes
that sting melt on the tongue
and are shaken off caps and coats like oversized confetti.

The world is silent.
Peaceful.
And quiet.

Cars too frightened to move turn slowly white
and merge into sidewalks lumpy-carpeted. No favourites here!
Trees make twiggy ice sculptures
and carry on their topsides fluffy white icing.
A crunching plough comes and goes
in a vain attempt to restore black road.

And still the world is quiet.

Snow motes floating under the light make specky shadows
and soft nothings as they land.
Yet nothings grow till squeaking underfoot
and rumbling off roofs—beware below!

Lights flicker.
And in the stillness the world is alert
and knows
that man is but nothing ‘gainst a mighty God
who by soft nothings a whole new world makes
without having whispered one word.

 



“I am very impressed by the faithfulness of Christians who live in the midst of political or religious persecution, yet have a deep commitment to mission,” Lane says. “These church leaders lack our resources—libraries, books, computers, and finances. Yet they represent the church of the twenty-first century.”

Lane teaches practical theology at Ridley Melbourne, a small Anglican seminary in Melbourne, Australia. “I have a great heart for theological education, and for the seminary as a vehicle of self-renewal and self-growth. Ridley is a blessing to our Australian church, and I believe theological education can contribute much in the developing world. The gospel is good news for people, especially for the marginalized,” he says.

Lane knows that Princeton Seminary makes enormous contributions to the world church. That’s why he has come to Princeton for several sabbaticals, the most recent in 2009, to study in the library, worship in Miller Chapel, attend lectures and concerts, and reconnect with faculty. He values the library in particular, and knows that access to its resources is important for pastors who cannot travel to Princeton, as well as those who can.
 
“The Seminary’s library is fantastic,” he says. “The collection is accessible and wide-ranging. If there is not a particular book there, they will add it to the collection.”

He values, too, the library’s hospitality. It was in the Speer Library reading room during a major snowstorm in 1999 that cancelled classes that he wrote one of the poems in his collection Southpaw, titled “Snow.”

“I can still see the outdoor lights shining on the snow coming down,” he recalls.

“The snow stopped everything, insulated everything. But the library was open, and the silence there was beautiful, and created space for my imagination.”

Encouraged by his PTS professors Deborah Hunsinger and Donald Capps to use poetry in his class work, and to submit a poem to the Journal of Pastoral Care, Lane went on to publish his collection Southpaw: A Matter of Reversal with Ginninderra Press in Australia in 2008. Poetry has been for him a vessel of healing and wholeness; he says his poems came out of tough times. “I began writing poetry to cope with stress in my life, to name things. I love the way its language is crisp, spare, the way it crystallizes experience. I think that, like the poet, God delights in the simple things, like snow, food, and light.
 
Recently Lane has been reading World War One poetry, including the poems of Wilfred Owen. He finds that art and poetry can help address and make sense of the tragedy of war. “Being creative is a part of healing,” he says. “It can move us toward wholeness, help us process trauma. It can share so many beautiful things.”