Monday, August 31, 2009

Belated Anniversary, With Explanations: Why Sunday Sabbath Poetry?

Yesterday, even as I previewed the supposedly brief nature of this series' posts, as is typical I was unable to contain my own exuberant verbiage. Let's see if I can get it right this time.

From the outset, I started the "Sunday Sabbath Poetry" series simply for myself. In high school I loved reading and writing poetry, but the passion wore off gradually in college (along with confidence in anything I was able to write myself). However, in February 2008, on the occasion of my wife giving me Wendell Berry's A Timbered Choir: Sabbath Poems 1979-1997, the fire was spontaneously and powerfully rekindled. And six months later, when I started the blog, I thought Sundays could serve -- every so often, at the least -- as days to pause, to share a poem that had meant something to me, and even to include a poem of my own as well. If anyone enjoyed it, great; if not, then I was still keeping myself engaged with poetry by necessity, forcing myself to find new poets and write new poems on a weekly basis!

However, especially initially, I wasn't always or even usually featuring "poems" by "poets." Instead, I was posting lyrics to songs. By way of explanation, listen to Barbara Brown Taylor:
I know plenty of people who find God most reliably in books, in buildings, and even in other people. I have found God in all of these places too, but the most reliable meeting place for me has always been creation. Since I first became aware of the Divine Presence in that lit-up field in Kansas, I have known where to go when my own flame is guttering. To lie with my back flat on the fragrant ground is to receive a transfusion of the same power that makes the green blade rise. To remember that I am dirt and to dirt I shall return is to be given my life back again, if only for one present moment at a time. Where other people see acreage, timber, soil, and river frontage, I see God's body, or at least as much of it as I am able to see. In the only wisdom I have at my disposal, the Creator does not live apart from creation but spans and suffuses it. When I take a breath, God's Holy Spirit enters me. When a cricket speaks to me, I talk back. Like everything else on earth, I am an embodied soul, who leaps to life when I recognize my kin. If this makes me a pagan, then I am a grateful one. (Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith [New York: HarperOne, 2006], pp. 79-80)
Theologically, there is plenty for the orthodox particular to pick apart here. But listen to what she is saying, and realize that she is not making claims about natural theology, nor declaiming a "point of contact" between "God" and "nature," nor reciting pagan liturgy, ancient or modern. She is simply saying: Not a soul who recounts the thousand and one differences between God and nature, or who warns of the dangers of nature worship, or who reemphasizes the anthropocentric priority of Man -- not one! -- has opened his eyes and seen the glory of the God about whom the Psalm says "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof." She is not concerned with orthodoxy, but with just how good God's pronounced "Good" over all creation was in the beginning, and is still today, and will be in the last day.

I have the same sentiment about art, and in this case, poetry. Sure, Maynard James Keenan and Thom Yorke and Sam Beam and Robin Pecknold and Jeff Tweedy and Andrew Bird aren't Christian poets; so what? They have beautiful, powerful, damning, and magnificent things to say through their words and their music -- why not listen? Why not listen especially as Christians? as ones who believe the glory of the Lord fills the earth? as ones who know we find the risen one in the most unexpected of places?

And similarly, why limit ourselves to "proper" or "legitimate" poetry? Poets as exquisite as the classics still live and write -- Li-Young Lee and Kevin Hart and Mary Karr and Andrew Hudgins among them -- but our poets also and especially are our musicians and rockers and indie bands and underground or local folk artists. There is no such thing as "low" or "pop" art: beauty and truth are beauty and truth. To be reminded from the oddest of sources is only to remember the sort of God we serve.

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