I’ve got a sermon to work on so not much writing for today. But I do keep coming back to Wallace Stevens’ idea of the poet being “the priest of the unseen.” And I wonder if Eugene Peterson, one of my favorite writers, knew that quote and had it in mind when he asked, “Isn’t it interesting that all of the biblical prophets and psalmists were poets?”
If Stevens is right and Peterson is right, then maybe pastors and teachers within the church would do well to ignore the business leader manuals and marketing strategies – at least for a while – and listen to Hopkins and Dickinson, Berry and Radnoti.
Just a thought.
Have You Ever Not Feared?
Have you ever not feared?
To stand there in all that mercy,
if only for that split second
with nothing to fear, is heaven itself.
One of the great wonders of poems is how they can capture a moment and help you understand the moment is more than what skates on the surface. This is good because often we have more than one thought and often more than one emotion swirling within us at the same time. Who has not felt grief and anger and wonder all at the same time?
Auden defined poetry as “the clear expression of mixed feelings.”
Maybe that’s why we see so much poetry in the Bible. Depending on who you ask, you will get different answers as to how much of the Bible is poetry. But it’s at least around 30%.
And that makes great sense to me. Because the Bible is dealing with all the great mysteries of the Universe, including the mysteries within us, it makes sense for the varied authors to hand us revelation in the form of poetry.
Some of that poetry is beautiful and comforting. Sometimes the poetry is sad and brokenhearted. Often it is frustrated and confused. What is interesting is how all that includes God. That may be an obvious point. But here is the thing – whether it is about a loss, a reason for anger, a betrayal, fear, grief, wonder, the beauty of creation, lovers entwined, or advice for a son – God is in the mix. Though unseen, he is the highest reality.
Wallace Stevens said the poet is “the priest of the invisible.”
And that is why poetry –including the poetry of the Bible – is often what I go to when I am tired of this world. I need a clear expression of my mixed feelings to stare into and to know that what I see is not all there is.
on the way to the school,
a cat writhing in pain
in the opposite lane.
And I hated this world
and the friends of this world
(every time, it seems)
we speak of our cats
to tell us how, they
do not like them and prefer dogs.