“Persephone ate the pomegranate seeds that Hades offered her in the underworld; this guaranteed she and her mother would be separated a third of every year; and that was how winter came into the world.”
If you’re not into mythology, these words of Sue Monk Kidd’s in her latest book, Traveling With Pomegranates, might be a turn off for you, but I’m finding diverse treasures in this wonderful volume which she penned with her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor.
I’ve been a fan of Kidd (the mother) for several years now, finding inspiration, even if I didn’t agree with everything she wrote, in The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. And her novels, The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair are both favorites of mine. And then I read an essay she wrote for All Out of Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, in 2006 and I continued to feel a strong connection with her.
So when I heard that she and her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor, had written a book together, I was intrigued. They traveled to Greece and later to Paris together, but the book is more than a travelogue… it’s a candid journal of their spiritual lives and their relationship as mother and daughter.
Sue writes about her struggles with moving into middle age, concerns about her future, her writing, her changing place in the world as an “older woman,” in mythological and spiritual terms:
“As I contemplate the fertility I hope for in my fifties and beyond—the regeneration of my creativity, the refinement of my spirituality, a new relationship with my body, the rediscovery of my daughter, indeed an inner culmination I cannot fully articulate to myself—I realize it cannot be plotted, orchestrated, controlled, and forced to bloom.”
How many middle-aged women (like me!) have felt this same way. Feel this same way right now? But who would think to tie it into a piece of fruit?
“The pomegranate in the myth symbolizes both death and life…. Maybe it is a feminine thing, I don’t know—but whenever I’ve managed to find new consciousness and renewals of my work, my relationships, and myself, it has been by going down into what seemed like a holy dark.”
A holy dark. The prophet Moses met God in a cloud of darkness. He doesn’t always appear to us in shining light. And He often appears to Sue in symbols…in peacocks and pomegranates and old women and green journals.
While reading the book, I began to be drawn to pomegranates, and bought some at the grocery store, along with a little pamphlet that shows how to “open” them. My friend Caitlyn cut them open and carefully removed the seeds from the membrane, and rinsed them for me. I sprinkled a little sugar on them and devoured them over the next couple of days. Tart and sweet at the same time. And, they have three times the antioxidant ability of green tea or red wine! (Here’s a little more about the history of pomegranates if you’re really curious.)
I even bought a pair of earrings when I was in Oxford this past Tuesday because they reminded me of pomegrantes, and of the necklace that Ann bought in Greece, which she writes about in the book. (The earrings are hanging on the side of the cup of pomegranate seeds in the picture on my kitchen counter.)
And maybe I’m taking this too far, but on Friday when I chose my Christmas cards for this year, I noticed that they come from a publisher named Pomegranate!
It was fun to read that Ann worked for skirt! Magazine in Charleston at one point, since skirt! has published three of my essays, my favorite of the three being “Super-Sized Enightenment.”
I’m intrigued by Sue’s relationship with the Mother of God, and how it has changed and grown throughout her writing. In her travels she visits the house in Ephesus where Mary, the Mother of God, is said to have lived after Christ’s crucifixion and ascension. She writes about the “human Mary” and the “divine Mary” and how she has been coming to “understand her not only within a biblical and human context, but also as … a spiritual presence able to hold large archetypal mysteries.” Gazing at paintings of the various stages of Mary’s life on in the Louvre, she makes parallels between those stages and the stages of all women’s lives, and of her life as a writer. I love the meaning she draws from everything… it’s like she experiences life through an amplifier or a magnifying glass, hearing and seeing it louder and larger than most of us do, and bringing that vision to her work as a writer for all of us to enjoy.
And her spiritual journey encourages me to be open to the different ways in which God works in our lives. Watching others approach an altar, make the sign of the cross and pray in the “Mary house” in Ephesus, Sue writes:
“It has been a long while since I’ve made a concrete petition, but as I linger, waiting for my own moment with Mary, it is faith I wish for. I wish to shape my needs into specific, well-considered words and offer them to my own particular image of the Loving Mystery, believing like a wise child.” She’s struggling with a desire to learn to be still, to just “be,” and yet an almost manic need to always be writing, always be “doing.” But there in “Mary’s house” her opposites come together and she prays for courage to find a new creative voice: “the words contemplative writer form in a slow, measured way….they give me the barest glimpse of a wholeness shining behind my divisiveness, the possibility of union.”
There it is again… that wholeness that I also desire, that Madeleine L’Engle wrote about so eloquently.
Joy. Depression. Darkness. Light. Mystery. Intimacy. Boundaries. Dreams. Poetry. Creativity. Spirituality. It’s all in there.
Oh, and Sue also talks about certain things that inspired her novel, The Secret Life of Bees, and I was fascinated by that… by the way the bees and the Black Madonna and the story of the little girl and the three strong Black women in the house and all that came together. She sees symbols in every day life and brilliantly turns them into stories. Great reading for writers. Great reading for anyone. Enjoy.