Back in December, I interviewed local poet Timothy Murphy and some of his literary comrades about his poetry book, “Devotions,” for our bi-weekly “Faith Conversations” feature.
Normally, that’s where the story would have ended. It wasn’t my place to interject, but rather, to let the story unfold through the voices of others.
But occasionally the objective and subjective collide — when recorded testimonies linger, infusing with my own searching soul.
Such was the case with my meeting with Murphy, who’d given me a copy of “Devotions” to review before our interview, with a suggestion that I approach it as a devotional.
I appreciated the idea of slowly absorbing the phrases he’d so carefully woven together day by day, rather than in one hurried gulp.
And so “Devotions” became incorporated into my morning prayers, turning them unexpectedly into something richer than before.
It is one thing to read the Word of God, which stands on its own, and another to read the words of one searching for that same Word.
I call to mind Pope Paul VI, who once said, “the world needs witnesses more than … teachers.” The witness, it has been explained, “is one who speaks with his life.” Through his raw divulging of what it means to be human, Murphy is a master at this.
While reading his poems, I have found tears suddenly slipping down my cheeks. In other moments, my solemn face will unexpectedly turn upward into a smile. I’ve even, while tucked away in my quiet prayer corner, laughed out loud, seized with delight by Murphy’s honest renderings.
But how is this so? My life is so unlike Murphy’s. I’m a woman, a mother who has spent a fair amount of her existence meal-planning and obsessing over the details of her family’s comings and goings, tending to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of her brood.
And Murphy? Well, he has his hunting dog and his poems. He’s also an interesting combination of businessman, wordsmith and nature enthusiast — particularly when it comes to the sport of hunting.
I’ve never touched a gun and sorely lack a grasp of numbers. Yet I find myself looking forward to what his heart can witness to me.
Perhaps it is our shared faith and, yes, our common brokenness. We’ve both been touched by God so profoundly that we were left breathless, without a choice but to listen more intently and make our lives an account of our redemptive experience.
Murphy’s conversion was far more dramatic than my own. His was, as he names it, of the Saint Paul variety, happening at the very moment he was plotting his escape from this world by one of the very guns that had led him through a North Dakota field in search of grouse.
Whatever the details of conversion, when it happens, the soul changes, as Murphy attests.
During our December interview, Murphy told me that the Holy Spirit’s touch had opened a portal within, and his writings had become more purposeful, his outpouring more prolific.
It struck me that he is an anomaly — a walking book of poetry. He couldn’t get through the interview without pausing to share his latest poems, including one written just hours earlier. And as he read, his soul leapt to life.
While the rest of the world communicates in 140-word Tweets, Murphy is old school, going deeply into his everyday experiences and ruminations to describe, in evocative fashion, both the reality of our having been made in the image and likeness of God and our propensity to forget it.
A poetic giant, Murphy is encased in the small frame of an Irishman whose post-conversion red hair hangs on as an additional witness to what he’s been through — the losses, the regrets, the dances with death, and finally, the divine embrace.
In his own words, Murphy calls his latest efforts a collective “love poem,” dedicated “to the Plains, the Rockies, the Caribbean, the Arctic, the North Woods, to the dogs and Alan and friends, the Boy Scouts,” and “increasingly to the Holy Spirit and our Redeemer.”
Despite his mostly reclusive existence, we are blessed to have this genius of meter here in our community. And through his poems, Murphy has allowed every one of us access to him. Through taking him up on this bidding, we become witnesses to God’s grace.
Harvest Moon (Tim Murphy)
A year ago Steve saw me in seizure’s throes
and told his wife he’d bidden goodbye to Tim.
Frank Miller gave me the last rites, and Frank knows,
Christ’s priest that he is, when eyes go dim,
pulse slows, blue takes the fingers and the toes,
pray for the soul.
Tonight a full moon rose
And sang over my head a harvest hymn.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Feb. 11, 2017.]