Evolving God by M. Stone was released as part of Ghost City Press’ summer micro-chapbook series on June 21, 2018. This book was the sole reason I subscribed to the recipient list in the first place. M. Stone’s poetry is stirring and brilliant, and the prospect of reading a collection of hers was an opportunity I did not want to miss.
Stone’s collection explores her changing relationship with God. It chronicles her life from the age of three, to the age of thirty seven. It spoke to me deeply on a personal level as a writer and a human being, in a way that is difficult to put into words. I have often had internal sparring sessions that go something like this:
Q: Is being religious incompatible with being a poet in the 21st century?
Q: Does being non-religious, formerly religious, or atheist/agnostic make a person more of a poet than the average poet in the 21st century?
I have never broached this subject with a fellow writer, because it has never come up…until now! The beauty of writing is that it opens up the variety of different ways people live and think to a host of readers; it can create a very empathetic environment. Stone’s collection is no exception, and it allowed me to be meditative, self-reflective, and to stare down my life. This was frightening, but I was able to do it to a degree, perhaps not in the fullest measure because of fear. I have fear of the emotional triggers, and I have fear that somehow my sensitivity to my life could lead to insensitivity to the life of the writer. This reflection originates from sensitivity to the experiences written…I am sensitive to my experiences and hers simultaneously. I hope this reflection does justice.
I was reared in a religious household. As a young adult, I still am religious. It has been a great benefit to my life. Though I have had, and am still enduring, difficult situations, none of it is God’s doing. However, having a personal relationship takes a lot of work, just as it takes a great deal of effort with a human. It requires a lifetime to maintain a personal relationship with God. Some times are easier to do this than others. When I was six years old, this concept was way above me. I knew God existed, that He was powerful and cared about humans, but I didn’t apply this to myself. In the poem, “At Age 6,” the speaker has the clearest vision of who God is. God is very real to her when she likens Him to her father, stern, seeking his approval. Many don’t have a sense of who God is…this six year old child could articulate and visualize this.
My father was not (or, more appropriately, is not), the best person, and was not a good parent. My parents separated when I was a child. Their split was so acrimonious that the divorce was not finalized until three years after my father left home. As a result, when I entered my teen years, I chafed under the idea that God was a more superior parent. This made perfect sense to me, but I could not stop thinking about how imperfect my biological father was. The section when the speaker was six years old caused so many memories to flood back.
The next poem that hit very close to home was “At Age 10” for its account of mental health. Mental health is real, and can be treated. In my early adulthood, I am trying to come to grips with what I feel might be fledgling mental illness. When I hear things like, “People who have mental illnesses just need to be more spiritual,” it goes all through me. This line of thinking is so antiquated, and so harmful. This poem made my heart ache.
“At Age 27” helped me to recall my senior year of high school. I read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. This novel was a testament to my life (my classmates laughed at me in my English class…I didn’t care. My friend from high school still laughs six years later…I still don’t care.) For context, Stephen Daedalus, the main character, struggles with religious and societal expectations. At the end of the book, he shirks all of that and pursues creativity as a writer. Stone writes, “I wax philosophical/to anyone who will listen/so I can drown out your voice/muffled by a concrete voice.” This is precisely what I did at that stage of my life. My English class my senior year of high school was one of the happiest times of my life. Still, I felt a pull.
Finally, I read “At Age 37.” The speaker accepts not having all the answers. She experiences a literal and figurative healing from her treatment of depression. She embraces life. I have some answers, but not all. I struggle, but that’s ok. That, in no way, obviates me from embracing life. I have complicated relationships, but those should change over time. I’m still religious, still a writer…still evolving.