Preaching and Poetry
Sunday, I preached at Rupert Methodist Church.
I am not a pastor by trade. In fact, it’s something I have avoided most of my life, despite a spiritual nature. In a way, I’m trained for it – one of my degrees is a Doctorate of Divinity. But I’ve never felt the call. I seriously doubt I have the patience to pastor people day in and day out. I am way too much of an introvert to be up front and center.
Plus, come on, let’s be real here. I’ve made, in my fifty eight years, most of the mistakes a man can make. I’m no paragon of perfection. I’ve spent years in therapy after my divorce. I battle (and most days, win) a long running battle with depression. I’ve suffered crazy loss. I’m too passionate sometimes. I’m earthy sometimes. I see humor in the oddest places. Despite being a pretty competent fellow, I am rarely sure of myself.
All of which is good fodder for being a poet. Poets are supposed to be a little neurotic, a bit off. Our emotions and passions are supposed to run rampant. Sometimes, I think, writing poetry is nothing more than writing country music songs, without music or (in my case) rhyme. We’re expected to be crazy eloquent and maybe, a little crazy.
The problem is that I don’t fit that mold either. I am quiet. My passions bubble under the surface where only those who look and listen will see them. I live a quiet, happy little life. Unremarkable. I have worked steady and unspectacular jobs for most of my life. I was married for twenty five years. My kids like me. I hardly drink.
I am, it seems, neither fish nor fowl. Not holy enough to be a pastor. Not earthy enough to be a poet, straddling the fence, being merely…
I think perhaps that is why Christianity sings to me as a faith. The whole of the bible is full of incredibly flawed people who God used to do amazing things, not because they were perfect or even, in a lot of cases, remarkable in any way. They were just willing. They took the chance that God and his promises were real, opened themselves to them, and amazing things happened. History was changed. Lives were changed. Hearts were healed – something even more unexpected than bodies being healed, and at least as hard. The great men and women of the bible straddled that fence between holy and profane, but in opening themselves, something amazing happened.
You see, that is how poetry happens for me. I am a fairly “productive” poet. Rarely does a day go by that I don’t write a poem or two. But it’s not so much that I can think of all this stuff. I just open myself to it. I look at a picture. I write in my journal. I think about my day, or my history, or my hopes and dreams for the future, and I just sit.
I just sit, and open myself to…. well, I like to think it’s God. But those of you full of doubts or derision for God are free to give it any name you please. The Muse. The Universe. Inspiration (which my the way, means “God breathed”). but I wait for something to come to me. Words, an image… something.
And it nearly always does.
That, I am learning, is how art happens for me. Poetry. Photography. Painting. It’s not so much doing, (even though a certain amount of skill is involved.) as it is allowing.
And faith, I think is the same.
We tend to think of church as a place we go and a thing we do. I tend to think of it as a place where we stop and we listen and we let God in, after a week or a few days of running so hard and staying so busy that we forget to open the door to him and let him in. At church, or in any spiritual space, we stop. “Be still, and know I am God.” the Psalmist says.
And so now, I find myself preaching now and again. Our church is temporarily pastorless and I am filling in the gaps between other supply preachers one or two Sundays a month. Thoroughly uncomfortable in the role.
And yet, a couple of months into it, I am discovering something, that, just like poetry, I don’t have to do as much as I thought I did. I spend the early part of the week preparing my mind, filling it with thoughts and research and scholarship and emotion, and then stop and… not write a sermon, just let it in.
I’ll never be completely comfortable in the pulpit. I guess I have an idea of what a preacher should be. Way more perfect and holy than I am. But maybe, I am wrong. Because when I look, really look at the men and women of the bible, they are often as broken and flawed as me. I’m in the company of what a friend of mine often calls “proper villians”.
And just as my brokeness and struggle gives my poetry a certain voice that at times touches people where they are, perhaps, just perhaps I can let my brokeness and struggle and my own searching on how I can live a better life (and it is a struggle some days) touch other people.
My faith, and poetry learn from each other. And they have a common theme – that we’ve all been broken some times. At times it may be temporary and at times our brokeness is a long term battle, and that in sharing that battle, both the victories and the defeats, we help each other through it. Healing is the first step toward the abundant life we all want for ourselves and for those around us.
So maybe, just maybe, the two are not as foreign to each other as I have always thought.
I hope not, at least.
My guess, and it is only a guess because I have no credentials in psychology and no particular wisdom, but my guess is that if we’d step back, we’d find that there are places we can all put our brokeness to work, where sharing our stories will touch others, if we have the courage to tell them. That’s what poets and writers and preachers and inspirational speakers have all learned.
There is a tendancy though, for us to think that we’re not that important. That what we have to say is of little value. Or that we are not eloquent enough. Or talented enough. Or skilled enough.
We could not be any more wrong. Each of us have a story and a situation that will touch someone. Eloquence and skill comes with practice. You don’t need a formal education or a lot of letters after your name to share your story. You just need to do it, and with practice and time, your voice as a writer will emerge. Your vision as a photographer or artist will come. Your place in a faith community will find itself.
But only if we have the courage to start. And the courage to continue.
I have no idea how long or how often I will find myself preaching. Truly, God only knows. But, it seems to be where I am supposed to be right now. And now that I have found preaching is not as unlike poetry as I once thought it was, I am a little more comfortable with it. And as you let God, the muse, the spirit in to your life, you’ll find your own way.
I know it. I just know it.
Be well. Travel wisely,
PS – The picture is from Rupert Methodist Church, our sanctuary
I love your honesty tom. The truth is that you are an inspired poet.
I would like to think of you as a prophetic preacher or inspired teacher of God’s Word. Multi-talented.