Book of poetry brings voice to women of Bible

North Texas Catholic

11/8/2016

This is the cover of she:robed and wordless by Sister Lou Ella Hickman.

"she: robed and wordless" by Sister Lou Ella Hickman. Press 53 (Winston-Salem, 2015). 110 pp., $14.95. 

Catholic writer and spiritual director Sister Lou Ella Hickman, IWBS, knows when she is meant to tell a story. Having immersed herself in years of Scripture study, Sr. Lou Ella has become intently focused upon the thoughts of the women depicted in both the Old and New Testaments.

“Steven Spielberg has said, ‘If I can’t let go of the story, that’s when I know that I need to write it,’” Sr. Lou Ella said. “The more I read, the more I studied, the more I prayed with these women, the more I knew that I wanted to let them speak for themselves. They have become very central to my own life.”

In her recently published book of poetry, she: robed and wordless, Sr. Lou Ella, who lives in Corpus Christi, Texas, gives voice to the women who appear in 66 different passages from Scripture. The imagined reflections of familiar figures such as Ruth, Sarah, Esther, and Mary accompany the thoughts of unnamed characters, such as the daughter of Lot or the mother of the prodigal son. Housewives, slaves, queens, victims, and women on the margins of respectable society all have something to say, sharing the realities of their everyday routines and also their most profound experiences, as when Veronica mourns:

“It was a hard befriending/a sadness stretched out like cloth…/the world in His face/the face in all our seeking.”

Spare, lyrical, and accessible, the poems allow for a glimpse into the grief-stricken hearts of women like Hagar. Carrying her young son, expelled from home at the command of his father’s wife, she stumbled forth into an unknown future: “she simply said go/and so i went/out into the morning’s light with a sleeping child/our pain so wild/our battles will never end.”

In contrast, the exuberant words of the woman bent with infirmity, whose story is told in Luke 13:10-17, guide the reader into the transformation that results from a personal encounter with Jesus: “unnamed, i was less than servant animals/voiceless in their grazing or being/led to water/on the fringes/i carried what they would have me be/now called daughter of Abraham, at last/i am faithful and free.”

David Bottoms, Poet Laureate of Georgia, in reviewing the collection, wrote that the truths revealed in the collection are universal. “These terse little poems are often bright nuggets of insight into the psyches not only of the Biblical women who speak through this poet’s imagination,” wrote Bottoms, “but they are also deep insights into our own psyches.”

Sr. Lou Ella, a native of Brownsville, began writing poetry at the age of 13, and is, herself, an avid reader; authors Graham Greene and Flannery O’Connor are particular favorites. Sr. Lou Ella’s degrees in English and theology, her training as a spiritual director, and the years she has spent as an educator and a librarian have all, she said, shaped her approach to Scripture study and to storytelling.

Sister Lou Ella Hickman, IWBS, author of she: robed and wordless, is based in Corpus Christi and has written poetry for several years.

“Nothing is lost on a writer,” she said. “I always told my students, ‘write what you know, and also be sure to write what you don’t know.’ In my case, I was a convert to the Catholic faith. My Protestant background, with a very heavy emphasis on Scripture, has served me well in the writing of these poems. I have great respect for the [Biblical] text as I read, and it is a living text, not something that is static. I look for nuances, little details that offer fresh insights and inform my own writing.”

The compliment that she values most is one that she has heard from several of her readers, said Sr. Lou Ella. “I’ve had people comment to me, ‘I can identify with these women.’ That’s the best thing that anyone can say to me. I want women of any faith to feel validated in reading these poems, and I particularly want a woman with no faith to also feel validated, to realize, ‘These are universal experiences. I am not alone.’ Even for a few minutes, a reader might discover someone very real: a real, warm, human person, whose story makes them feel less alone.”

In reflecting upon the demands of her life as a writer, Sr. Lou Ella gratefully acknowledges the support of her congregation, the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament, in allowing her to focus upon her chosen work. She has published her poetry and over 300 articles in a wide variety of books, newspapers, and magazines.

“One of the things I’ve learned about the spiritual life is that if it’s not of God, it won’t happen. If it’s easy, it won’t happen. The fact that this little book could become a reality, it says something about how it does belong to God, and that is important,” said Sr. Lou Ella. “I want to write for people; I want to respect their spirituality, and offer something that validates their own experience.”

Bishop Robert Morneau, retired auxiliary bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin, wrote in the book’s foreword that the poems offer an opportunity for those who seek to encounter the insights of Scripture through their imaginations.

The poems, wrote Bishop Morneau, “will provide a new and different platform to read about the women in the Bible. St. Ignatius, so fond of encouraging his followers to use their imagination in plumbing the depth of Biblical stories, would appreciate this volume. Each verse invites us to return to the story out of which they have arisen. And moving from verse to story, we may well find ourselves in prayer, a prayer that unites us in the communion of saints, so many of whom are spoken in this poetic volume.”

she: robed and wordless is published as a Tom Lombardo Poetry Selection, an imprint of Press 53, edited by Tom Lombardo of Atlanta, Georgia. It may be purchased through Amazon or through Press 53 at www.press53.com/Lou_Ella_Hickman.html.

Catholic writer and spiritual director Sister Lou Ella Hickman, IWBS, knows when she is meant to tell a story. Having immersed herself in years of Scripture study, Sr. Lou Ella has become intently focused upon the thoughts of the women depicted in both the Old and New Testaments.

Published