Updated: Feb 3, 2021
I am becoming a poetry nerd. I know, I just lost a handful of readers before you could even click on the link. I should have started with a much better hook. Something like… My husband passed out cold at his parent’s townhouse yesterday morning. Which is true. (And he’s fine.) But whatever.
Can any of you relate to this experience where God is teaching you something, and he is literally bombarding you with a message? Like every book/sermon/podcast/Bible passage says the exact same thing, and you don’t even have to be a genius to know you should pay attention?
It’s been like that for me lately, in spades. And it has to do with poetry, of all things.
Side story. You might remember if you’ve been reading these posts for a while, I once imagined myself getting a tattoo of a favorite Greek word: poiema. It’s the word translated “handiwork” or “workmanship” in Ephesians 2:10. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (NIV). A better translation of poiema might be “masterpiece” or “work of art”—better yet, POETRY. We are God’s poetry. Hold that thought…
So. I’m not even sure of the timeline of all this, there’s been a good deal of overlap. But starting maybe late fall 2020, for sure before Thanksgiving, because it definitely factored into my Christmas shopping for Luke and Ali… (too many details, I know, getting to the point) I was reading two books at the same time, both written by writers, about writing. One was Andrew Peterson’s Adorning the Dark, a book I downloaded on Kindle when I saw it on Christianity Today’s Book of the Year award list. The other was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet, a book published in 1972, which I purchased used, years ago.
Another side story. When I was a college junior, I got to have lunch with the late Madeleine L’Engle. She was a visiting speaker, and I happened to be the teaching assistant for the Education Department, and a huge fan of children’s literature (still am), so was given the honor of an invitation to a small lunch gathering of mostly Bethel faculty. I have a personally autographed copy of her Ladder of Angels from that day. So cool.
So I’m reading Peterson and L’Engle at the same time, just before Christmas, and both talk a great deal about poetry. Peterson, who is a singer-songwriter, repeatedly encourages a practice of regularly reading poetry for any person with aspirations to write. He references a handful of his favorites, which I jot down for my next trip to Scout & Morgan—my favorite local bookstore, and the one very specific “gift card” request I’d given my husband for holiday shopping.
But. Too eager to wait for post-Christmas, I decided to head to S & M for the other book lovers on my gift list. Which narrowed it right down to my second-born son and his wife. With a great deal of excitement, and not a small measure of envy, I purchased Mary Oliver’s Devotions for Luke and Ali, and threw in a much skinnier used copy of Why I Wake Early for myself. (Ali and I compared notes this week, and both of us are loving our poems.)
There’s more. (Could this get more exciting?) So. Back in December(ish) I’m at page 74 in Peterson’s book, when he makes this statement:
“If you’ve never read Madeline L’Engle’s Walking on Water, put down this book and don’t come back to it until you have.”
And I think, what a coincidence, I just happen to be reading Circle of Quiet, so I follow Peterson’s advice, somewhat—downloading the recommended book—although I figure I’ve probably got enough irons the “writer-memoir” fire for now, so I save it for later.
Now it’s early 2021, and I am starting the new year with a PILE of books. Including several purchased with a gift card from a very thoughtful son, in addition to my husband’s. Among them, L’Engle’s, and more poetry, a Mary Oliver book of essays, and a novel I’ve been meaning to read by a Colombian Nobel prize winner. And then, early in Walking on Water, L’Engle mentions her childhood favorite book, Emily of New Moon, by L. M. Montgomery (author of Anne of Green Gables) and I realize I’ve never read it. So, of course, I immediately download (free this time on my library app) and begin to read, this delightful story about a young orphan, who just happens to be an aspiring poet! (Are you catching the repetition?)
Okay, one more super relevant, albeit tangent, detail…
First month of a new year, a pastor acquaintance introduces me to Classroom by BibleProject—free online seminary courses taught by Tim Mackie. Remember that name. (This is all related. I promise. And nerdy. I warned you.)
One more super cool side story. Two days ago, Sunday, my brother and his family came up to celebrate Thanksgiving/Christmas. (Covid, you know.) Uncle Kyle offered to take Jared’s three boys (10, 14, 16) out for 4-wheeler tubing on the frozen lake, while the rest of the grownups enjoyed a winter walk. My sister-in-law had mentioned earlier, over lunch, a something she’d learned about “cornerstone” and word-play. (Oh gosh. I need to explain this, too. We were looking at the super cool photo journal of our house building project, created and given to us by our most-amazing-new-next-door-neighbor, and one of the pictures was of the actual cornerstone used to build our rock wall.) So. I asked Aniko, while walking on our frozen lake, to tell me more about the word-play thing, and she says it’s something she learned from (wait for it) TIM MACKIE! (You have no idea how jazzed I was. Clearly.)
The main thing is, I’ve been taking a class or two nearly every day for the past four weeks, and the first couple of units, all Mackie talks about is POETRY. Because, you know, a third of the Bible is poetry, and before you can even hope to interpret scripture, you need to understand how to read a POEM. And I’m telling you what. About two weeks into this, I am completely blown away by something that maybe should have been obvious before, but light bulbs are exploding now, and it’s like I said to Aniko on Sunday. The authors of the Bible were poet-geniuses! I mean, they were brilliant. I’m telling you what. If you’ve ever thought the writers of scripture were just kind of jotting notes while God fed them information, think again. I mean this stuff is…
And no kidding.
Reminding me of something L’Engle repeats in both books I’ve just read. And I’ll end with this. (Walking on Water, page 88.)
L’Engle starts with this dialogue from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town:
“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?”
“No. The saints and the poets, maybe—they do, some.”
And then she says this:
Poets and saints. What an odd coupling. And yet, Freud, too, puts them together, saying that they are the two classes of human beings who defy all his psychological categorizing, who are full of surprises.
And just now, as I type this, I’m wondering again. Would it be crazy, at my age, to actually get—a tattoo?