Guest Writers · On Writing · Poetry

Penny-Anne Beaudoin – Poet – Writing & Religion Part I

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.
God knows.
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. 

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