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Interview: Jacci Bulman, poet and writer

28 February 2020

‘My first experience of God was when I was having spiritual healing for my brain, after surgery’

My inspiration and drive to write come from my love of life, of people — people who inspire me with their light; and my experiences of our human mortality, healing, a love of language, and my spiritual awakening. My sense of connection to God’s love. I don’t really think of poems, I just sit and let the poetry, or my non-fiction writing, come along. Then I edit and craft it to tighten it up.

My first poetry collection is A Whole Day Through From Waking; my second is In the holding.

I also co-edited Write to be Counted. Three of us in a group of poets that I belong to decided that, rather than doing nothing about the refugee crisis, we’d ask all the poets we knew if they wanted to write something on human rights. We organised some group readings to sell the book. It was a good thing to do. It taught me about co-editing, which is different from working on your own.

My first-hand experience of refugees goes back to Oxford, and a time when I went to Senegal with a fellow student to study problems for the World Food Programme.

I very much focus on making my work accessible to people who might not otherwise read poetry — people going through times of healing, grief, personal challenges, or spiritual awakening. I love Raymond Carver and his American style of free-flow writing. It’s a kind of colloquial style which contains a lot of hidden crafting. I like poetry which is accessible and not pretentiously hard to understand.

More and more I focus on making spiritual connections, through churches, workshops, or discussion groups.

It doesn’t pay the bills — not at all. My husband and I have a shop selling cards and gifts and chocolates. I’ve just sold the first 100 copies of my second poetry book, but a lot of profits from the sales I’ve given to charity. I am next hoping to organise a poetry event to fund-raise for the Kianh Foundation, a charity which I co-founded after meeting some incredibly brave children in the disabled wing of an orphanage in Vietnam.

I grew up in a terraced house in Lancashire, and followed my curiosity and love of study, which took me to St John’s College, Oxford. There, I developed a brain tumour, which took me on to a path of healing; and, through the challenges, I learned about God.

I now live in a converted chapel in Cumbria, help run the shop, plant trees, and look after wild ponds.

My first experience of God was when I was having spiritual healing for my brain, after surgery. A strong feeling of love energy came into the room, above my head. My healer sat down in a chair, and I went through a very special healing time. But I don’t need such experiences to trust in my faith. I’ve never spoken openly about this before.

I studied Human Sciences at Oxford, and wanted to help people to understand each other and to develop together as one human race. My aims are still the same, but now clearer and more driven by God’s love.

I’ve learned that God is the love we all belong to. Just today, I felt this connection to all life around me, as a loving energy, which helps you to lose your focus on your own self and just enjoy being a tiny part of God. I believe the deepest part of our soul, in everyone, is love.

Love in so many forms has been the influence in my life and writing, and my sense of E. M. Forster’s words from Howard’s End, “Only connect”. To connect honestly to our feelings, our challenges and inspiration, which, for me, has been through my experiences of a brain tumour, skin cancer, some incredible children in an orphanage in Vietnam, my deep love for my husband, my fascination with the magic of communication, and the everyday life which contains so much — then to connect to what is beneath and beyond all this: God’s love.

I began writing poetry at about age seven. I’ve always loved writing — the way we can put down letters on a page and communicate our thoughts and feelings and ideas to each other. It’s a treasure which I truly respect. My work editing poetry with my publishers and poetry criticism groups really helped me to develop my craft.

My new non-fiction book is Talking God: Daring to listen, which Lion Hudson will be publishing in June 2021. The book contains 11 interviews with a wide range of people who are Christians, or simply follow Christ’s teachings. I set about writing it in a journey to explore what being a Christian can mean today. I then went to Iona island as the 12th interviewee, to answer the questions myself, clarify my own beliefs, and look at what active steps forward we can all take with our personal faith.

That’s why I’m training in facilitation skills: talking and listening. When I wanted to explore my own beliefs, I decided to listen to others — Christians, or people who follow Jesus. I asked people a set of 14 questions, reflected on them, and invited readers to go on that journey with me and work out for themselves what they believed by learning to listen to God in their heart, and to other people, as an important part of finding out. This doesn’t dilute or muddle your beliefs — it actually helps to clarify them.

If I let go of my attitude of needing to prove “I’m right”, I learn a lot from what “born-again” Christians say. From people whom we might call “unconventional” in their faith, I learn so much about God’s unconditional love, and how important that is. A lot of us believe similar things deep down, but we use different language to describe it.

Simple as it sounds, the thing that holds everyone together in my book is the commitment to their spiritual life, and belief in God’s love. There are differences. They often depend on how much we take God’s unconditional love as unconditional. It’s quite a simple thing to say, but it’s a big statement, that.

My proudest achievement is actually learning what it feels like to really, fully, absolutely love another human being — my husband — and then to know that God’s love is even deeper — to achieve complete trust in God.

I guess that going through my second major brain surgery took a lot of courage — especially having a tube inserted into my brain while I was awake, to see if I could function without blood from my left carotid artery. But I’ve never been too afraid to do anything to stay alive, which is just a lucky gift.

There’s so much in life that I still want to do. I want to see my non-fiction book on faith through the editing process to final publishing, finish writing a new book about seven ways to be a survivor in life, then begin a book about my understanding of God’s unconditional love for us — and that’s just this year.

Most of all, I want to set up a discussion and action group where people can share and listen to each other about their faith in God as love, then act on it. I’m just going where my faith takes me on that.

It makes me angry when people just talk at each other and don’t listen or really communicate.

I’m happiest when I’m feeling love inside me, then connecting this loving to being in all living things around me.

I love the sound of the sea drawing back over pebbles.

The source of my hope is my trust in God, and believing that people are, deep down, all wanting to be loved and to love.

I pray by lifting people up into God’s love, and trusting in that, rather than specifically asking God to do things. I tend to trust in the loving.

For a long time, if I could choose anyone to be locked in a church with me, I’d have immediately said Mary Magdalene; but I’ve recently seen a whole new way to connect to Mary the mother of Jesus, as the woman who bravely said yes to incarnating God in Jesus. As I believe life is all about saying yes to God, I would love to listen to her about that.

Jacci Bulman was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

A Whole Day Through From Waking is published by Cinnamon Press at £8.99. In the holding is published by Indigo Dreams at £8.99 (£8.10); Write to be Counted is published by Book Mill Press at £8.50.

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