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Monk in the World Guest Post: Vanessa Caruso

I’m delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Vanessa’s Caruso’s reflection and poem.

I’d heard of The Artist’s Rule a few times before I finally ordered a copy. Covid lockdowns had begun and four other friends found their way to the book, and we gathered on Zoom to share our work. The exercise that had captured my imagination was writing a poem after Edward Hirsch’s I’m Going To Start Living Like a Mystic. I was becoming a novice in a neo-monastic community and followed the chapter’s prompts by writing about our three vows – prayer, presence and simplicity. A poem emerged – I’m going to start living like a monk – and then a few weeks later I realized that I already was living like a monk, that monastic bells had been hidden and ringing in my life for a few years already as I had been consenting to the contemplative, creative life. So I changed the titles and reversed the stanzas. I was 39 at that the time, and remembering how insecure I had been in my 20’s, how my sense of self seemed inversely tied to the other beautiful women in the room. What a surprise to realize that I was no longer disappearing in any setting, that silent prayer had invited me to fall in love with life, including my own. 

I’m living like a monk
by Vanessa Caruso

I’m known. I’ve suffered the beams
of God’s gaze – Their magnifying glass,
at the right angle, feels like flame. Under
radical regard audacity blooms,
remakes. I have a more real face.

I’m living like a monk.
Little monastic bells are hidden
everywhere: how-do-you-do’s with
the neighbors, my six-year-old asking for
anything, the oven’s timer beeping
for the same lemon glazed cake
my mom brought to each ballet recital –
the edges crystallizing overnight.

I’m humming all the time the lullaby
I’ve been pining for, and heard once
in birdsong, humming as I twist the dishes
under the tap, humming as I unfold
my spine on our sandstone rug, humming
as I scribble the street numbers of my
favorite wild homes in this tucked-in town,
humming as I fund the heart’s imagination
with my dimes of tithed attention.

I’m interpreting cravings as greetings,
jealousies as clues, and headaches as a
ballad from my body, wooing me to lay off
the striving for an afternoon. There is no
such thing as capital L Lost time, no
learning too slow to count, no
woman so beautiful
I disappear.

*This poem was the product of the writing prompt in The Artist’s Rule, after Edward Hirsch’ I’m Going to Start Living like a Mystic.
*The line “fund the heart’s imagination with my dimes” was inspired by an essay in Image, Issue 101 by James K.A. Smith about Carolyn Forche, called The Unfinished Cathedral: “There’s not a formula for creating such art, just the long slog of funding the imagination, like regularly dropping coins into the bank, not sure when you’ll draw on the capital.”

Vanessa Caruso is a spiritual director based on Vancouver Island and she loves the courage and creativity involved in companioning others. She is also a member of a local neo-monastic community with vows of prayer, presence, and simplicity. Vanessa loves store-bought cherry pie and camping with her family. Email her directly here.

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