To start with (and everyone gets this about poetry), poetry makes things memorable. I may not remember everything I or someone else talked about just last Sunday, but the very first piece of religious verse I heard in my life—in high school fer’ Pete’s sake—I can still quote verbatim after some 40 years! And it’s just this goofy, silly, little rhyme:
God’s plan had a hopeful beginning
But man spoiled his chances by sinning
We trust that the story, will end in God’s glory
But, at present the other side’s winning!
A little over 20 years ago, I read another, more serious piece of theological poetry written by a good friend of mine, Rodger Trimm.
I saw a grinning pup
Running in the wind
A grinning, speckled pup
Running with a friend
The boy, not far behind
Laughed for all his worth
The two were joined in mind
By love and love of mirth
Where did it all begin, this homo-canis bond?
In evolution’s bin? Or did a God so fond
Of elemental joy
Create a grinning pup?
Create a laughing boy?
I know what I believe…
But there is SO. MUCH. MORE. to poetry than mere memorability.
Here is an insight from N.T. Wright in his book, The Case For The Psalms; Why They Are Essential:
“To write or read a poem is already to enter into a different kind of thought world from our normal patterns. A poem is not merely ordinary thought with a few turns and twiddles added on to make it pretty or memorable. A poem (a good poem, at least) uses its poetic form to probe deeper into human experience than ordinary speech or writing is usually able to do, to pull back a veil and allow the hearer or reader to sense other dimensions.”
This sounds right to me and dovetails with my own experience in writing theological poetry.
All of the verse on this site is inspired by a biblical text or group of texts, a biblical story or character. And when you write about this kind of material in verse, when you attempt to relate some biblical truth in a literarily artistic way, you really can’t do it justice without some careful study. And if you want to be faithful to the text, to the story, to the character—and be theologically sound—neither can you do it without introspection and prayer. You can’t do it without dwelling within that text or that story or that life and trying to see God in them as well as yourself.
So that, when God does enable a creative writer to pen something that can be read or shared in verse or song, we can say two things about the result:
- That the resulting verse is a product of faithful reflection, sound theology, and the gift of God.
- That the resulting verse will, in turn, promote sound theology and has the potential to produce ever deeper insight when thoughtfully read and reflected upon. A beautifully ascending and uplifting spiral that stirs the soul as it strengthens faith and increases knowledge.
Theological poetry also expresses itself as this lovely, artful form of commentary–one that can actually aid in understanding the word of God. Not merely by imparting information to be processed in a logical or linear kind of way, as in two plus two equals four. This bit of information plus that bit of information equals this conclusion. The real power of poetry–the power of literary artistry—is that our minds are stirred emotionally, aesthetically, inspirationally, and imaginatively (as well as memorably), in ways that augment the rational. Only God knows exactly how all that works chemically and biologically within the brain as synapses fire this way or that way. But we can often sense, experience the way logic and intellect mate with emotion and feeling—giving birth to truth and the freedom truth brings to us. We sense that, when our hearts are deeply touched as well as our minds—when emotions are deeply stirred and imaginations are fired in a creative fashion—timeless truths have a new and vibrant way of being revealed to us and sticking with us and leading us to even more timeless truths.
Now that I’ve read what I’ve just written, it sounds a little like I’m describing ‘inspiration’. I suppose I am. Or at least scratching the surface of it.These are some of the things I have noticed and become increasingly aware of as I’ve worked on my craft.
It is truly a shame that poetry, as literature, is not mainstream in all the ways it once was. But, perhaps only poets think that anymore.The good news is, poetry is still alive and well and mainstream in music (so thank God for our music!). For where the artistry of muse and music meet and marry, some of our very best poetry lives happily ever after.
While we’re on the subject… what are your gifts? How does God and His Story deeply move and inspire you? Then… how can God participate with you—deeply move and inspire you—in the using of your gifts to honor and glorify Him?