MM: Ron, thank you for joining the One series. With Story Nine: Wheels Turning Inward, you introduce poetry into the series. Up to now, all of the entries have been prose and personal narrative. The goal of One is to explore our faith and you do it in a different way. What was your inspiration?
RS: I have always been inspired by our relationship with the divine mystery. However, you may imagine this mystery to be at work within your own life. Poetry is a language that helps us to express our place in the world, in creation itself.Through the poet’s voice and vision, we catch sight of the clear longing of God for all humankind, and the true value of relationships through which we come to know and become known by this mystery.
MM: That is excellent. Poetry definitely gives us a unique way to express ourselves. I am so not a poet, but sometimes the directness of prose does not convey that necessary emotion in the same way as a carefully crafted poem. Obviously, it has taken you years to achieve an adeptness at this, how long have you been doing it?
RS: I wrote my first poems back in high school and college, and then put writing aside for most of my adult life. A few years ago something awoke within me that wanted to write again and I became very intentional about taking the time to read and write more. We learn from the masters, from those who have gone before us in expressing our place within creation.
MM: In a way, you have been writing most of your life. You say you were intentional in reading and learning from the masters. Who are some of the masters that influence you?
RS: There is a long list to choose from I’m afraid, more than we can completely cover in this interview. To name a few poets I would say; Carl Sandburg, Mary Oliver, Vassar Miller, E.E. Cummings, T.S. Eliot, Saint Julian of Norwich,Rumi, EmilyDickson, and Julia Esquivel. I could go on and on.
MM: I recognize a few of those names. That always makes me feel better. Sometimes we get to this point in the interview and I feel so sheltered because I don’t know who we’re talking about. However, that inspires me to find them and expand my literary universe. Hand in hand with the last question, who are some of your spiritual influences?
RS: The theologians, spiritual masters, and writers who have influenced my thought and poetry are Meister Eckhart,Angelus Silesius, Paul Tillich, Paul F. Knitter, John B. Cobb,Thomas Merton, Nagarjuna (Buddhism),SorenKierkegard,Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki (Buddhism), and Cynthia Bourgeaultto name only a few.
MM: You got me on that one. I only recognize one of those guys. But that’s okay. That is one of the great things about this series. Each author has a different background and adds their knowledge to the whole. We like to celebrate those differences. What is different about you or the way you write?
RS: I get up early nearly every morning to read, meditate, and write. Sometimes I’ll meditate and pray for thirty minutes or so, at other times I may simply read the work of other poets and writers. This helps me to focus on my own voice and what it is that I wish to share with others. Poetry is a language that touches us at the deepest levels of our spirituality. Poetry moves us at levels seen and unseen, at both conscious and unconscious levels of our being. By listening deeply to the self, by listening to the eternal word that dwells within us all, I believe that we are able to touch and be touched by the divine. This mystery, and it is a mystery, surrounds us utterly, it sustains us in life and for life. Poetry is an affirmation of life, the gift of life, and all the marvelous things that are ours to experience in life. Life itself is grounded in our relationships; we live in relationship with one another and with all of creation.
MM: That is heavy. I like the idea of channeling inspiration. I also like your ideas on the connections between poetry and spirituality. Can you share more about your faith?
RS: I grew up in Midwest America, raised in a mainstream Protestant Christian tradition where we attended church every Sunday. This experience taught me the importance of relationship and gave me a spiritual grounding that has flowed all through my life and the life I share with others. Eventually, I began to understand that the Holy Spirit is actively at work within the world across many faiths. It was then I began to study other spiritual traditions and was drawn towards a more contemplative life and practice. Buddhism has helped me to understand a radical openness to creation itself, to an inherent and abiding spirit or force within our own being. One that is always offering us life and one that reveals the divine mystery to us, and calls us to love, calls us into relationship. Still, I held on to what I knew best in the faith I had practiced since a child. But in this process, this journey, I learned that the divine mystery at some level touches all faiths, and I found comfort in an interfaith dialogue that includes both Buddhism and Christianity. Today I am actively involved in the Episcopal church, in a Christian sacramental tradition, but also in an interfaith dialog with Buddhism and other contemplative traditions, through the meditative practice of stillness and silence, a resting in God, in the eternal now that is always present to us, where one empties themselves of all images and becomes radically open to that which is moving across creation, that sustains creation, seeing God as a verb that touches us eternally. As a word, where God is moving towards us, reaching out as a word to communicate God’s self. Ultimately, this involves a deep listening to what the divine is speaking to each one of us, and it is a process of listening, of dialogue, and of relationship within that dialogue. It is also a process of growth, of spiritual evolution, of Theosis and Sanctification found in the Christian tradition. It is a process of understanding that we are all interconnected to put it into Buddhist terms, it is a concept that places a focus on our interconnectedness with life, all life, reality itself, out of which our lives arise. In Buddhism, this concept is called Dependent Origination or Dependent Arising, and Emptiness. Perhaps it would help, as Jesus or a Tibetan or Zen Master might, to have you visualize the emptiness of an empty cup, the space that can be filled at any time, by anyone, by you, by God. This space, this emptiness, can be seen as the pure and infinite potential of all eternity, out of which all reality arises in a universe of infinite possibilities, or even of a given intimate moment within eternity, now in this present moment, in these words, even in the spaces between each word. You may also visualize it as an empty cup, a cup that is ready to receive the new wine of life or hot jasmine tea. My spiritual practice is both theistic and non-theistic, where I release and let go of all our preconceptions and images of whom God is, and simply let God be God, without any expectations. In this sense, it is an openness to the divine indwelling, the presence of God’s Spirit. One where we learn to let the Holy Spirit pray with and through us, with sighs too deep for words or images. This is an opportunity of deeply and personally coming to know God, to realize that the Spirit is part of us and given to us freely.
MM: All I can say is, “Wow!” I know you convey some of this in your writing, but to see it here is impressive. It is the personification of East meets West. I suspect that the concepts you touch on would take years of study, but also have a universal appeal. To see such an interesting spiritual side, what is something else personal you would want to share, that might not be in your author bio?
RS: From time to time I paint, abstract paintings mostly, working in both oil and an acrylics. Some of the pieces are small, like 14” x 18”, others much larger 3’ by 3’.
MM: That’s it. You paint. I like that. You have this immense and cosmic view of God and spirituality and... you paint. Plenty of room for self-expression there. Besides painting, what other projects are you involved in right now?
RS: I’ve been working on organizing a new non-profit called Saint Julian Press that will help to identify, nurture, and publish transformative literature and art.http://www.saintjulianpress.com/index.html
MM: Very nice. You have named your press after one of your inspirations. Now, for some fun before we part. If you could ask your supreme being one question, what would you ask?
RS: What new mysteries and relationships are you to reveal to me today?
MM: And lastly, what I think has become my favorite question, if you were a flavor of ice cream, what would it be?
RS: Mango, I’m addicted to Blue Bell Mango flavored ice cream, and I love the color.
MM: I wonder what that says about your personality? A Midwest sensibility with a Tropical attitude maybe? Well, thank you Ron for such an informative discussion. And readers, please remember that 100% of the author’s proceeds will be going to Give Kids the World (www.GKTW.org).
You can get One Story Nine: Wheels Turning Inward by Ron Starbuck on Amazon Kindle for $0.99 by clickingHERE. http://goo.gl/ZSuAv
You can follow One and the Authors of One on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/MarkMillersOne
Also, Ron wanted to share a few other links:
Saint Julian Press and Poetry Blogs -http://www.saintjulianpress.com/index.htmlhttp://ronstarbuck-poet.blogspot.com/http://whenangelsareborn.blogspot.com/
Parabola Magazine Tangent: God As a Verb, pages 100-109http://e-ditionsbyfry.com/Olive/ODE/PRB/Default.aspx?href=PRB/2011/09/01
Parabola Magazine Tangent: A Radical Openness, pages 98 - 111http://e-ditionsbyfry.com/Olive/ODE/PRB/Default.aspx?href=PRB/2011/09/01