poetry and gappy theology
Is there enough poetry in our lives? Today my teacher, who is first generation Chinese-American was telling us how much Chinese love poetry, they put it everywhere: on teapots, in landscape paintings, around the door of a home, on a flower vase, wherever there is a little spare space a few characters of poetry can be added.
Poetry doesn’t seem to occupy the same sort of space – literally or metaphorically – in our North American lives. In fact, I find that poetry tends to actually make people rather uncomfortable: “I don’t get it” folks say, “That’s pretty, but what does it mean?” folks wonder.
But the more that I study theology, the more I try to preach or write about what I dis/believe, the more I try to connect in pastoral yet challenging ways with my fellow spiritual pilgrims, the more I find that poetry offers far more possibility than any other form of writing or speaking.
I presided over a church service this weekend and found that the best way to communicate what I wanted people to learn or take away was through the hymns – the poetry. I find that people are at such different places in their spiritual journeys, and needs are so different, that most communities need “gappy” theology. By “gappy” theology, I mean theology that has enough gaps to allow people too find and make their own meaning. By this I don’t mean hymns or poetry that have no meaning or completely relative meaning, but rather different layers of meaning that can speak differently to different people.
I too find myself, far too often, trying to tie people down to thinking exactly the way I do, believing exactly the way I do – I find myself thinking “if only this person could read exactly what I’ve read, and hear the lectures that I’ve heard, then they’d see things the way I do!” But then there's the experiences I've had, the people I've loved, those who've loved me, the things I've seen... all of that has influenced the way I see the world and the way I do theology. How could I ever convey that totality of life theologically?
I speak of poetry as a revelatory distillation of experience.... Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so that it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.
-Audre Lorde "Poetry Is Not a Luxury" in Sister Outsider
Maybe poetry is a way of doing theology in a way that both honours the fullness of our lives and allows enough space for others to enter in.
Three things are too wonderful for me;
four I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky
the way of a snake on a rock
the way of a ship on the high seas
and the way of a man with a woman