Buried in a pulpit near you
This week will see National Poetry Day marked in the United Kingdom. It may also see the silencing of a courageous and unusual poet – Victor Zamora. Victor was elected by the Chilean miners trapped in the San Jose mine as their ‘official’ poet. By all accounts his messages are amongst those most eagerly awaited by people on the surface. They certainly have an agonising poignancy to them:
Under the earth there is a ray of light, my path, and faith is the last thing that is lost… I have been born again.
The thing is, great poetry, like great Blues music, is often born of suffering. Will Victor’s poetic voice be lost, I wonder, when he breathes the sweet air of freedom?
In many churches the poetic voice in the pulpit was lost a long, long time ago. It was drowned out in favour of theologically precise, cerebral prose which closes meanings down rather than opening them up. And yet, surely, this has been to everyone’s loss? Prose may feed the mind but poetry feeds the soul. Prose draws borders but poetry blasts a road through the mountains of indifference and borders be damned. Poets choose words for their creative ambiguity and their many-flavoured meaning. In his book Finally Comes The Poet, Walter Brueggemann says that the deep places of our lives can only be reached ‘by stories, by images, by metaphors and phrases that line out the world differently.’
Do we fear poetry as preachers, I wonder? Are we uncomfortable with its bar-of-soap-like tendencies to avoid clear definition just when we think we have it pinned down? We should note that in the days of the Exile God’s great prophets rarely outlined any new theology. Instead they talked about the theology people were born with and made them feel differently about it. In order to do this they had to be poetic in their language.
Does poetry have a place in your preaching?