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Greetings from St. Barnabas in Medicine Hat, AB. This site contains reflections on the liturgical calendar and themes arising from the adventure of following Jesus.

The Christian Life is a celebration of the great fact of the Incarnation–“God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” The incarnation changes our understanding of God (& salvation) humanity (ourselves) and the nature of things (reality).

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Why Poetry?

Tell all the truth but tell it slant

BY EMILY DICKINSON

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/56824/tell-all-the-truth-but-tell-it-slant-1263

Though this refers to my blogs from Lent, and to the use of poetry, the basic approach to theological reflection is still a good orientation to my blog. Enjoy and Engage!

As I think about blogging during Lent, I will be using poetry again. I thought I would take the opportunity, then, to think out loud about using poetry for theological/liturgical reflection.

Apart from the Biblical use of poetry/song as prayer/worship (the most obvious being the Psalms) and its well attested use in the church, beginning with Jesus, I am asking about the use of poetry to convey or stimulate theological insight. Why use it?

Here’s what I think. Poems are useful because the truth of a poem is an outcome of the poem: it is something the poem conveys, it is not contained in the poem or the constituents of the poem. If this is accurate, this means that poems parallel the process of theological reflection/statement. They too point beyond themselves!

Poems point to what they describe. They are a reflection of the truth the poet “sees.” This in part is due to the typical nature of the content of poems—not a set topic, like love, death, loneliness, but the insight, the light (the revelation) of the subject that that poet glimpses and seeks to communicate. Poems, like the topics of theology, speak not only of God (and the standard ‘biggees’ of The True, The Lovely, The Good) but of all of the created world and the sum of human experience and thought.

And, like theology, a poem that tries to explicitly state what it says has lost its integrity, has really ceased to be a poem. Clear statements (like troubleshooting a leaky tap, or a faulty circuit) have their place in life, with the corollary in religion for statements on polity and practice. (Or like this piece of writing, to orient, set the stage.) But in the affairs of the spirit and heart, and in the invitation to thought, these clear statements are off base, misled and misleading. And can in fact create a barrier to growth, a prison, an atmosphere unconducive to life.

These things which you may accept as a description of poetry are (and here you may not agree) true also for theology, that is, true for our understanding and articulation of God and our relationship with God. It is the very oblique nature of poems and their ability to be somewhat innocuous which makes them invaluable to doing theology. Given our presuppositions about theology (& God) and the fatigue of “hearing” about God, poetry may just provide the sideways glance, the motion caught in the corner of the eye, which is vital to thinking theologically!