POETRY IS SOUL STIRRING. That’s its job. Stirring souls. From the Greek poiein – to make or compose – poetry is an exercise in listening, in making things new, in vivifying, bringing life and maintaining and sustaining it. Poetry opens windows onto the depths of our souls, and the depth always surprises us, opens us, stretches us, appeals to a deeper generosity of spirit, a wider inclusivity. We will never cultivate a love for poetry if we’re inclined to maintain fixed positions – on any subject or object under the sun.
On the move …
Poetry is on the move, dynamic (explosive), changing, creating, morphing. Poetry is beyond the control - of any one human person – even beyond that of the poet. “The Spirit listeth where it wills”. Poetry bears the very Word of Life to hungry hearts, souls, minds and bodies. Poetry is a wide open door and every man, woman and child is invited to enter or depart her portals entirely at will. Poetry – this particular kind of creativity – invites us to celebrate being free to be.
God is the Great Poet. Word has been breathed into the Universe – and thereafter, through the divers gifts of Spirit, trusted to do Word-stuff – something different, even when similar, in every hearer, indeed in every element and atom of Creation. My prophet doesn’t look, sound or make exactly the same sense to me as yours does to you. Your “Christ” and mine might be similar whilst also being different. God – and Life itself – are seen through different lenses. And God is apparently OK with that. We can no more say that another’s faith “is not true” than we could say the same of a poem. Truth is a matter of perspective and a matter of the Word heard; what, where, when and by whom.
That’s why the world’s sacred writings – the Bible amongst these – are full to bursting with glorious poetry. That’s why, in the Church of England, The Book of Common Prayer is granted a place of high honour. That’s why the late twentieth century Church of England’s Common Worship points to Divine activity with supremely beautiful phraseology such as “the silent music of your praise”. Poetry itself might be bound between two covers, poetry binds up, gathers, collects – in the sense of drawing together, but poetry never seeks to imprison. Poetry recognises that the real grace of words is their function as vehicles for every person’s imaginative creativity and expression. Christian truth, as one example amongst the world’s faith traditions, is intended to hold and to celebrate the glorious fact of diversity.
I think that’s why poetry enters most every conversation I ever have with a would-be priest. Conversation with four ordinands today, two within our parish and two without, led naturally and fluidly into the sharing of poetry. That’s always rewarding and hopeful in my book. I’m assured thereby of a willing and loving open-mindedness and generosity of spirit.
All of one race – the human one
Further reflection upon the gifts of Pentecost at the Eucharistic celebration here this morning brought us again to that glorious affirmation in the King James Version of the Bible (Acts 2) – “we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God”. Different words and different languages for different people, but all of one race – the human one.
The sharing of three poems – each written by people of different religious traditions – was well received by one person after another at the fiftieth birthday celebration of our Associated Church Fellowships group here in the late afternoon. And – gloriously – in the relatively few words of the poetry a large assembly multiplied the power of the words by a factor of 50 or more persons present. Each of us hears a different measure of truth from exactly the same set of words – and are, at one and the same time, bound by a common, shared experience.
A Vision …
And then there was the sharing of Psalm 122. “O pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.” Jerusalem is the big word here so we unpacked it. Jerusalem may be translated “City, or Vision, of Peace”. (Oh, can you feel the irony?). Let’s pray the psalm poetically – “O pray for the peace of the Vision of Peace”. Ah! There’s OUR point and purpose. Whether we’re praying for or about the representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths that look to Jerusalem, or for or about any other form of reaching out (or in) to the Divine, what is of fundamental importance is that we pray, with all our hearts and souls and minds and bodies, with our very lives, for the peace of the Vision of Peace. How are we to set about this in practice? By cultivating a love for the poetic, by being open-hearted, by being willing to recognise that the Divine Source of all our lives is “making all things new” and “turning the world upside down”.
Ria Gandhi, a writer friend who lives in Mumbai shares my affection for the works of Rabindranath Tagore. I love the 78th Song Offering in Gitanjali – with which I ought to draw this post to a close … (for the wholly pedestrian reason that I’m due at my aqua-fit class in half an hour!)
When the creation was new and all the stars shone in their first splendour, the gods held their assembly in the sky and sang ‘Oh, the picture of perfection! the joy unalloyed!’
But one cried of a sudden – ‘It seems that somewhere there is a break in the chain of light and one of the stars has been lost.’
The golden string of the harp snapped, their song stopped, and they cried in dismay – ‘Yes, that lost star was the best, she was the glory of all heavens!’
From that day the search is unceasing for her, and the cry goes on from one to the other that in her the world has lost its one joy!
Only in the deepest silence of the night the stars smile and whisper among themselves – ‘Vain is this seeking! Unbroken perfection is over all!’