SI teacher writes poetry book on Luke’s Gospel
April 11th, 2017
By Tom Burke
Poetry has helped bring consolation and clarity to Paul Totah for almost all of his life. In “The Gospel of Everyone,” a book he says helped him “punch through the darkness to get to the light,” the longtime St. Ignatius College Prep teacher, administrator and media representative retells the Gospel of Luke to verse.
“I chose Luke because, according to some traditions, he was a Greek physician, and his stories have a fascination with the physicality of the people Jesus meets and cures,” Totah told Catholic San Francisco. “There’s something tangible, earthy and immediate about his account that appeals to me. I found Luke the best doorway for me to discover the human Jesus.”
An email interview with the writer tells more:
Why poetry? “I wrote this in verse because poetry is the language of the epic. Even the Gospels are partly in verse.”
Who is your intended audience? “I hope my poetry speaks to everyone, though there are brief references that might be inappropriate for the very young. I am writing this as much for the unbeliever as the believer, as I’d like people who describe themselves as atheists or agnostic to be reacquainted with the human side of Jesus and what he did and said that rings true no matter what degree of faith one has.”
How long did it take you to write the book? “I spent a year doing this. I used a different technique to write ‘The Gospel of Everyone’ — the practice outlined by St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises. I let my imagination create back-stories of the people in Luke’s account – mainly the minor players who appear once or twice and never again. I tried to tell the story of Jesus from their points of view. My hope was to lift these stories out of lifeless iconography so that readers could imagine real people in settings not far removed from our own. (I also wrote from the points of view of major players, as you’ll see below.) I also made this a real spiritual exercise by taking long walks as I employed meditation and contemplation – both aspects of the exercises.”
What are your favorite accounts in the Gospels? “What struck me in my close reading of Luke were the stories that just don’t seem to be part of the Sunday Gospel cycles. The story of Joanna, for example, was one I simply don’t recall having read before. Knowing that three women accompanied the Apostles – Joanna, Susanna and Mary – gave me a sense of how this group successfully travelled from village to village. I imagined that these women were the mother figures of the group – something these young men most likely needed in order to succeed in their ministry.”
Totah said he is “not preaching dogma,” or “correcting history” or arguing a theological position. “What I hope these poems do is lead readers to questions that help them understand more intimately their own loving relationship with themselves, with their neighbors (all of creation included) and with the divinity that links us all. In other words, this is my own attempt to live out the great commandment through poetry and to share that journey with my readers.”
Visit www.paultotah.com for more information.
From April 13, 2017 issue of Catholic San Francisco.