This essay is followed by three poems. Each one serves as an example of Theopoetics in poetic form. Theopoetics can also be accomplished in a more prose related form. It should not be thought that Theopoetics is the simple adornment of aesthetic words. Rather, Theopoetics is insightful, intellectual, instructive, and connects the whole person through the ‘spheres of existence’; the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious.
Theopoetics and the Language of God
Perhaps imagination and poetry is more affective for communicating than the modern tools of interpretation? This is the basis for some studies under the label of Theopoetics. I wrote a book of poetry titled Theopoetics as an outlet for my theology in relation to my experiences. My book Everyday Thoughts includes a poem before each of the essays. A poem precedes or follows most of the blogs on my website. My theological leanings are influenced by the dialectics of Kierkegaard who was inclined to the poetic as part of his philosophical and theological genius.
The experience that has most impacted my life (at this point) is the dissolution of a settled life brought on by the mental decline of my first wife. Within the next decade she would abandon our marriage to return to the Philippines and live the conflicted life of a vagabond. Her life was in constant chaos and I tried to provide her with the financial support to keep her safe. In time, COPD and Myeloma cancer would slowly deprive her of independence and culminate in her passing.
I had married her when I was a youngster serving (an odd word for military activity) in the U.S.M.C. In my youthful and enthusiastic driven evangelical faith, handing out Bibles to young women trafficked into bars seemed like a normal response to the horrific activities brought on by the presence of the U.S. Empire in the Philippines. My first conversation with her was an effort to help her find Christ and escape the life she was captured in. I chose to provide a collection of stories from that time interspersed around nonviolent readings of violent texts in my book Theological Adventures.
During her absence, I faced the struggles of hip replacement surgeries; first my right and then the left hip. These events led to some down time from all the busy activity that can fill life. I began writing poetry out of a therapeutic need for my own wellness. I bracketed off my entire book Interpretive Adventures with the first and last half of a poem.
At 61 years of age life looked dismal. I was sitting in a big house filled with memories. My children were adults with lives and children of their own. Sitting around all secure and waiting on something, was, well, simply not compatible with the person I had been for most of my life. I sold my home and took the money and moved to the Philippines. Over the course of life I had made eleven trips to the Philippines; the adventure of it all was still resonating in my heart. I had adopted a child, built a Bahay Kubo for family, fed the poor, taught at a Bible College, started a church, visited jails across the Visayan Islands and Luzon, investigated the sex industry, helped some trafficked women, visited the Aeta people, and taken numerous persons on trips with me.
After the sale of my home, I arrived in the Philippines, God’s good providence met me and my life was blessed with a lovely, intelligent, beautiful woman. Our relationship led to the writing of numerous love poems. At this point poetry began to fill my life. I am convinced that although the academic study of scripture and theology has its contribution for understanding and talking about God in the world, there is more. For example, without the tools of modern hermeneutics, Kierkegaard’s writings had taught, and stimulated my mind, about God and the world. His writings had done more to communicate Christ to me than, for example, the absurdities of source criticism, or the subjective decisions over textual criticism.
The dismissal of the aesthetic as a living part of language has turned the academic enterprise of biblical studies and theology into a language more at home with lawyers than poets. Poetry is God’s language. Poets turn spirit into words. Poetry is to reduce the dialectics of a reasoned argument to a single line. Poetry is to use only the words that are essential for touching the soul. Poetry is like call and response in the tradition of African American preaching. It is an empathic communication that breaks down the temporary walls of power and exclusion.
Poems are stories without all the details of a narrative. Of course, we know Jesus was a storyteller. The prophets wrote, whereas Jesus did not. Stories are easier to remember than a lengthy poetic diatribe. The writer of Job does accomplish a lengthy poetic diatribe within the context of a story. Yet, the story is easily recalled but the Joban poetry must be memorized, it is, in a sense, absorbed by the grandeur of the overall narrative.
Jesus left us nothing written by the finger of God but a story of his writing in the sand. The most poetic pieces of scripture are all Christological; e.g. John 1:1-18 and Colossians 1:15-20 and Philippians 2:6-11. It is notable that Moses destroyed the tablets written by the finger of God. Jesus’ stories appeal to the heart and conflict with legal authority.
Proclaiming the person and life of Jesus is an exercise in poetic imagination. How else can anyone communicate the stilling of a storm, the touch of a bleeding woman, the halting of a funeral procession to raise a son from the dead, or the quaking of the heavens at the death of a man with arms outstretched to forgive those who murdered him?
Paul’s letter writing is sat within the context of his life and addresses various occasions when his teaching and correction is needed. His advice, guidelines and commands are all subjective in relation to the choices we have when applying them to the present. Aw, but the poetry of his life is exceptional! Who among us has met a man like Paul? It is my conviction that Paul was chosen to replace Jesus short-lived life to be an exemplar of Christian faith.
Remember Paul the murderous religious zealot whose life was interrupted by the risen Lord to face life filled with suffering and joy. Remember Paul the man with a revelation so embedded in his soul that he was unable to communicate all he had heard. I’m sure the problem was people’s inability to hear. Remember Paul he tried to be like Jesus. Yes, we need some poetry to communicate the life of Paul. The goal of interpreting Paul’s letters is to hear his heart not follow his guidelines as absolute rules. Hear the man, Paul who was weighted with a call and gifted with grace. The poetry that is his life is where God is found.
Theopoetics is a word that acknowledges the search for God, includes the aesthetic in our ethical efforts, and religious claims, about God and world. The world is an ugly place of greed and avarice, of lust and desire, of war and murder, of idolatry and God’s absence; mercy is always beautiful. If you want to find God in the text, in the world, always look for mercy. Learn to hear the poets who bemoan the suffering of injustice, of loss, of tragedy, of a world without forgiveness for the weak, the oppressed; these are the victims of the powerful.
We are not fit to rule over one another. We must learn to hear the voice of God that speaks ‘today’. We must learn to find the beauty of God’s children greeting refugees. We must make the effort to learn and speak in other tongues to communicate with Asians, Latinos, Europeans, those pesky Americans and those who do not know the language of God. The earth is the Lord’s and all we’ve done is devise a way to atomize life. We have left a historical trail of self-destructive activity.
Love reigns over reason. Yet, reason speaks with love. It is time to focus more on living than on the distraction of religious smoke, the impossibility of knowing transcendence, the reduction of mystery to a priestly service. It is time to connect with the pathos of God like the prophets and experience the reign of God like Jesus.
I will offer three poems that are a sampling of my theopoetic efforts to speak the language of God.
For the Sake of Order
Ordering the World
Ordering the World
at what cost?
Humanity’s altar of order
Sacrificing one another
Only the guilty die
There are no victims
When Lord Order Speaks
Loving the mess of humanity
Order must be sacrificed
Victims are always innocent
Jesus crucified by Lord Order
All the religious rally
In love with brutal messiahs
Torah no longer a teacher
license for Slaughter
All the political rally
Powerful and Rich
All the fools follow
Crowds of Untruth
All for Lord Order
When the Killing Starts
Civil society births a Holocaust
Pyramids of Skulls
The poor weep
The Beautiful Imprisonment
Beauty and Shame
Beauty and Oppression
Victimage is always evil
The shallow beauty of appearances
Accompanied with smiling faces
In the eyes of the wise
Beauty can be Ugly
Beauty alone is an unethical power
An irreligious desire
To Love Beauty is Darkness
A prison for fools
A Beautiful Soul
Who can find?
Hiding behind Age
Looking like a thrift store
Bearing the scars of Love for the unwanted
Wearing a smile cleansed with tears
Living a life unrecognized by the beautiful
Her Jewelry a bracelet
Made by a leper
A Beautiful Soul
Who can find?
A self- effacing Apostle
Dressed like a pauper
Bearing scars for denying the appearances of power
Wearing the burden of wisdom
Living a life of imprisonment
His adorning His voice
Gravelly from truth telling
Somewhere between a primal scream and unfulfilled longing - humanity lives.
Living with tears and a smile - feeling everything.
Longing for love and understanding - always alone.
Being, person, individuality calls forth the dawn of a new day
meeting the interconnectedness of all creation
the challenge of all brings forth the night,
the need for rest.
Life must surrender to the rhythm of grace ready to fill creation.
The creative rupture of Imago Dei breathing
Speech, insight, love,
Learning to live
I see him, but not yet
The black hole of nothingness calls
pushed into a bout with a monster
Don’t fight dance with the eternal triad
Faith Hope and Love