On Writing

Poetry as Prayer – How Poetry Infuses our Spiritual Journeys

I was thinking about Easter and how, for many, this holiday and others like it (meaning religious and/or spiritual) – Passover, Christmas, Ramadan, Kwanza, Diwali, etc.) bring out or make more robust our connection to prayer. Many religious and/or spiritual beliefs use books as guidance for living life, and all of them, (if I’m not mistaken!) use some sort of prayer as the way to connect to God (big ‘G’, little ‘g’, and all the other word usages for a ‘higher power’) or as a way to deepen one’s inner faith and love for his/her spiritual choices.

As a child and into my late teens, I was a practicing Catholic. At my fingertips was this book that I (had to) study as part of my devotion to my faith – the Bible.

I remember heated debates in religion class in high school when certain scriptures made my head spin and my heart question everything. I also remember beautiful passages that spread over my soul and have stayed there as parts of my fundamental belief system – even though today I don’t practice Catholicism.

I do still pray. Every day.

I wanted to write about how poetry is a part of prayer so I thought about what part of the Bible and/or what part of the practice of faith has poetic power infused within it.

Psalms and hymns came to mind immediately.

Thank you Wikipedia for the following:

Poetic characteristics

 

The biblical poetry of Psalms uses parallelism as its primary poetic device. Parallelism is a kind of rhyme, in which an idea is developed by the use of repetition, synonyms, or opposites.[25] Synonymous parallelism involves two lines expressing essentially the same idea. An example of synonymous parallelism:

  • The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)

Two lines expressing opposites is known as antithetic parallelism. An example of antithetic parallelism:

The LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1:6)

Spiritual devotion is poetic in nature and in practice. How many weddings have you been to where part of the ceremony include this Bible reading:

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (New International Version (NIV))

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

Herein is another example of how spiritual words infuse our traditions and help express our love and commitment to each other, to our families and friends, and to our faith. At the most emotionally heightened and the most human experiences in our lives (marriage, funerals, births), poetry reaches into our traditions as we celebrate, grieve or challenge ourselves to understand what it means to be human…about what it means to have faith and express that faith in ways that can connect us to one another. Poetry does this. It connects us deeply because it comes from a deep place within us.

Why do you think this is?

I argue that the place where prayer and devotion lives within us in the same place where poetry lives within us. As a tool that is directly related to our soul, poetry can act as a powerful expression of prayer. It can and it does. The Bible, written thousands of years ago, with its psalms and poetic passages, gives an example of how poetry is a major part of how we pray, how we commit, how we express our beliefs and faith in the systems, people, and things we love.

Now, I’m ignorant when it comes to being able to have a truly intelligent conversation about religion. It has been many years since I stepped in a church of my own want or need, and it’s been longer since I picked up the Bible to read for guidance or pleasure or even research.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I go to my favourite poets for prayer and guidance. I also go to nature, music, and water for spiritual up-lifting.

My point is that (as it always tends to be!) poetry is everywhere. And it is most definitely a part of our spiritual journeys no matter what the umbrella is under which we believe.

I can tell you that after I finish writing a poem, especially one that comes from the deep regions of my heart and soul, the process, the release, the outpouring often is a spiritual awakening.

What are some of your favourite prayers that you feel are poetic or that are poems?

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6 thoughts on “Poetry as Prayer – How Poetry Infuses our Spiritual Journeys

  1. How beautiful. I love this reflection. Thanks !
    “I go to my favourite poets for prayer and guidance. I also go to nature, music, and water for spiritual up-lifting”…me too. This is so wonderful – I feel the same. “I argue that the place where prayer and devotion lives within us in the same place where poetry lives within us. As a tool that is directly related to our soul, poetry can act as a powerful expression of prayer.” Lovely words! Soul expression is holy in all of it’s forms isn’t it!! Aaah, freshness, thank you. Happy Easter!

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  2. One poet that really stands or in this regard is George Herbert.

    He is such an influential poet both in Christian and non Christian literary circles.

    What is amazing is he never had a single poem published while he was alive. He left them all in the hands of a friend just before he died.. With the option to publish or burn them.

    The early modern Protestants in Britain and Colonial America are a rich source for poetry… Other ones that I’ve enjoyed are William Cowper, Phillis Wheatley, Anne Bradstreet and Anne Steele

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    • Thank you Mark! I will turn my attention to these writers! Thank you for writing and reading! Oh – actually, I’ve just started read Anne Bradstreet! She’s blowing me away!

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  3. Until recently, I read a selection from Rilke’s Book of Hours, Love Poems to God, every night before bed. I got away from the practise as more books made their way to my bedside table. But a few nights ago, I used his book as you did Hafiz’s book – held it to my heart and asked for a word, and oh! the poem I opened to touched me so deeply! I keep reading that same poem every night for courage and wisdom. As I said my dear, you inspire me. 🙂

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    • I thought of you Penny Anne when I was writing this blog! Your spiritual strength urged me to be honest and offer my thoughts on prayer and poetry.

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