The time has come! It’s September 1st, 2012 and thus begins the first of my monthly ‘Guest Writer’ posts. Each month, a new writer will write a guest post based on a question I ask them. I’ll do my best to ask a question that suits the writer and her/his style/genre of writing. Responses will range in length and theme.
For the month of September, I welcome poet Penny-Anne Beaudoin.
Penny-Anne Beaudoin earned a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Ministry in 1997 and has published articles pertaining to religion and spirituality in several Canadian and American Journals. She was nominated for the Canadian Church Press Award in 2000. Her fiction has been published in Lorraine and James, Writers On Line, Ascent Aspirations, Flash Me, FreeFall Magazine, The Rose & Thorn, Skive Magazine, The Canadian Writers’ Journal and flashquake. She was nominated for the Push Cart Prize in 2005. Her poetry has appeared in The Windsor Review, On Spec Magazine, Quantum Muse, Room of One’s Own, Les Bonnes Fees, Membra Disjecta, and Doorways Magazine. She was nominated for the Rhysling Award for the year’s best speculative fiction in 2009. Both her short stories and poems have won or placed in a variety of competitions. holy cards: dead women talking is her first book publication. Penny-Anne lives in Amherstburg with her husband Tony and various figments of her imagination. She sings, has been known to preach on occasion, and tries not to think about the unfinished novel languishing in her desk drawer.
Book: holy cards: dead women talking
I will be posting her response over the month of September every Saturday – so expect it!
*Note to readers* The views expressed by the writer are the views expressed by the writer. Please know that this post includes views and opinions about religion.
Here is the question I asked Penny-Anne:
How has religion played a role in your poetry?
PART I OF IV: Religion and Writing: Reflections of a Wayward Daughter
I was covered in scars by the time I left the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, I walked away with great reluctance and heaviness of heart. I really tried to hold on.
The Church had been my second home from the time of my baptism. Catholic mothers of my mum’s generation took no chances that their offspring might wind up in Limbo for all eternity should they die without benefit of baptism, so the sacramental sprinkling took place as soon as possible after the cord was cut – in my case, about two weeks after my red-faced and squalling debut on this planet. Thereafter, religion became part of my everyday experience – morning offering, evening rosary, grace before meals, church every Sunday (even when we were camping!), confession once a month, a dark smudge on my brow on Ash Wednesday, the Lenten fast, learning the catechism, bowing my head at the name of Jesus, inscribing a cross on my forehead whenever I passed the church. I never questioned any of these observances. Like the air, they just were.
Holy pictures were displayed in every room of our house, and there were all sorts of religious books to read, among them, Butler’s Lives of the Saints, with its captivating stories of heroes and heroines of the faith, penitents who tortured themselves in imitation of Christ’s suffering, martyrs who went to their grisly deaths unbowed and singing, mystics who seemed more angel than human. I was particularly fond of the stories of the women saints, but best of all were the pictures of them, hair rippling to their waists, eyes raised to heaven, hands chastely folded over their breast or holding the palm of martyrdom or the lily of virginity. I grew to love these women and their stories, and prayed to them to make me good.
In my little hometown, I don’t think the church was ever locked, certainly not during the day anyway, and “making a visit to the Blessed Sacrament” was encouraged. It was a favourite ritual of mine, keeping Jesus company for a while, something I did whenever possible after school, pious behaviour befitting a good Catholic girl. But it was during one of these visits I discovered, to my astonishment, the first indications of a wayward spirit that would become the hallmark of my adult years.
At this time, there were strict limitations regarding who could touch a consecrated Host with their fingers. In a word, priests. Communicants of course, took the Host on their tongues without sin, but only the priest’s consecrated fingers could get it there. When we received Communion, a cloth was folded over our hands so that, in the event a Host was dropped, it would not come into contact with our unsanctified flesh. The same restriction applied to the tabernacle, the gold box that housed the consecrated Host – only the priest could touch it.
Only the priest.
One afternoon after school as I sat alone in the church, I felt a strong impulse to move up from my pew to the communion rail and pray there. This I did. Then after a few moments, another startling idea occurred to me. I opened the little gate in the railing, and knelt down in the sanctuary, the holy of holies, where the priest offered the Mass. But even this did not satisfy my now thundering eight-year-old heart. I walked up the sanctuary stairs, knelt before the tabernacle, extended my hand, and touched it. With my bare fingers. An unthinkable sacrilege. Only the priest! Only the priest, Penny-Anne!
Yes, only the priest. And now…me.
You cannot be blamed for thinking this an act of outrageous arrogance, willful disobedience, brazen desecration. But no one who knew me at eight years old would ever have called me in the least arrogant, willful, or brazen. I was a pathologically shy child. Teachers often forgot I was in the room. My disobediences never extended beyond the venial, and I lived in terror of any and all authority figures, including and especially, God.
So why did I do it?
Although I would only comprehended the magnitude of that moment in retrospect many years later, perhaps, and this is just a thought, but perhaps I did it because I was in love. In love with all of it – God, Christ, the Church, the miracles, the saints, the Latin, the incense, the certitude, the comfort, the golden shimmering possibility that I personally was being called – called to perform a prophetic act, one which would assure me there was no part of me that was unholy, no part unworthy or repulsive to the God who created me. I acted with a child’s tremulous trust that my touch would not elicit divine damnation, but hopefully a mirthful voice that would say to me with great affection, “I see you there!”
This dramatic act only happened the one time, and I never confessed it…well, until now. I disappeared into the hum and drum of small town life, to all outward appearances, and in my own mind too, a dutiful daughter of the Church.
All through school I showed a strong aptitude for reading and writing. Literature was a portal to another dimension and I gleefully threw myself down the rabbit hole with every book that came into my eager hands, and there experienced worlds of wonder. Then I started writing stories for class assignments and to entertain my classmates who predicted with resolute certainty that I would someday ply the writer’s trade. Gratifying to hear, but even more so to see my friends disappear into my stories and derive the same pure enjoyment I did.
My stars seemed set. I would become a writer, and hold fast to the Catholic faith.
Funny how things work out.
Part II of IV will be posted next Saturday, September 8, 2012.
15 thoughts on “Guest Writer September 2012 – Penny-Anne Beaudoin”
I enjoyed reading about your upbringing in the Catholic church. It seemed a lot like being raised in The Salvation Army, just a different denomination.
I’m so looking forward to the three remaining parts to this writing.
How are the poems coming about Mary Magdalene, Penny Anne! I can’t wait to buy your second book.
Joannie, I really must make you president of my fan club! Thanks for reading my article and taking the time to comment. The Magdalene Poems are progressing steadily but slowly – much more slowly than holy cards. But I love the story that’s unfolding. I’ll put aside a copy for you as soon as it’s published. Thanks for your support!
Thank you for reading and commenting, Joannie! Stay tuned for more from Penny-Anne next Saturday!
I love your work. I especially love hearing you read your work with that amazing sassy edge of yours!
Hearing about your back ground with the church and the subjects of your work is intriguing for two reasons:
1) I love the history of individuals and what shaped them to be the amazing people they are today, and 2) my partner had a very strong relationship with the Catholic chuch and even had a similar test episode, but hers involved stepping one foot on the stairs of a non-Catholic church and then running like hell…I mean heck…waiting for the lightning bolt to strike her down dead. Until I read your guest blog, I thought she was the world’s best ever Catholic girl, but now I think you could compete for that title.
I am very excited to read the rest of your guest writer installments in Vanessa’s blog.
Thanks Vanessa for inviting Penny-Anne!
Thanks for your kind comments, Karen! How very brave your partner was, for we risked eternal damnation if we set foot in a “Protestant” church. But as she just touched the step, I think a few rounds in Purgatory should be enough to atone. (Kidding! Totally!) Thanks again!
Gasp! Now you’re going to hell for sure! 😉
Great read. Can’t wait for installment 2.
Well, if you thought that earned me an eternity in the sulphur pits, wait until the next installment! Thanks for reading, Catherine, and for taking the time to comment. Deeply appreciated!
Your words bring me back to my childhood, but I must admit my transgressions within the church were more of the imaginary variety. How very brave of your eight year old self to assert your love in such a self-assured way despite the rules. That was a sure portend of things to come. Keep that story unfolding!
Oh Eva, bless you for this! You give me courage to speak my truth. Thank you so much!
From Poet Mary Ann Mulhern:
Penny-Anne Beaudoin’s piece re: religion is just great! I loved the way she led up to a very shy
eight-year old having the incredible courage to “touch the tabernacle”. Who knew what
force from heaven or hell could strike? Wonderfully written- made me “think back”.
Mary Ann, thanks so much for the wonderful comments! This means so much coming from a writer of your stature. I am blessed beyond measure!
How wonderful! I look forward to the next installment of your story tomorrow. You describe so well the experience of so many women in relation to the Catholic church but none who write about it, so poetically and deeply felt as you do! It brought tears to my eyes.
Now about that “unfinished novel languishing in your desk drawer”: Get it out – hold it to your heart – and continue writing (or that “other one” – the rewriting of the parables! which probably hasn’t even made your desk drawer yet!).
Blessings and love,
Ah Mary, thank you so much for your very kind comments and oh-so-gentle prodding! But I’m afraid the novel and the book on parables will have to wait as I am in the midst of a collection of poetry on Mary Magdalene, titled appropriately enough, The Magdalene Poems. And I am discovering a Magdalene I never knew, and I love her with a ferocity I never knew I had. The other two projects are not lost, just postponed. To every thing there is a season…
Thanks again, dear lady. As always, you are a blessing to me.
Ahhh — little trouble maker. It’s the quiet ones we have to watch out for. Enjoyed each description of those Catholic Daze — the transition between Vatican 1 and Vatican 2. How fortunate survived to tell the tales. You certainly were destined to translate the words of those lady saints.
Ahhh — little trouble maker. It’s the quiet ones we have to watch out for. Enjoyed each description of those Catholic Daze — the transition between Vatican 1 and Vatican 2. How fortunate we survived to tell the tales. You certainly were destined to translate the words of those lady saints.