Poetry + Theology

January 11th

San Xavier

I am taking a new course at my church on poetry and theology. The church has a resident theologian, thanks to a nearby seminary. I expected very little and was a touch overwhelmed by the 25 folks who came together for this first class, much of which was far over my head. Needless to say, I know little about either topic, but am always hungry to learn.

A few of the ideas we discussed included having an internal theology. What do you believe and why? The leader said he thinks poetry is one of the most abstract forms of art, and yet huge world views can be contained within a 10 line stanza. We are studying three poets who were Christians and included their religious views and doubts in their work: T. S Elliot, W. H. Auden and Wallace Stevens.

The leader also mentioned Rudolf Otto, author of  “Idea of the Holy.” Having never studied religion or poetry formally, Otto’s writings on the beauty and repulsiveness included in man’s relationship with God are fascinating and new to me. We discussed several stories in the Bible where the concept is showcased. Think of Noah being saved while the rest of humanity drowns. Or Abraham taking the son he so cherished up the mountain at God’s command to be sacrificed. Or, you know. The idea of setting up your only Son to be crucified at the hands of the rest of those you also created. Repulsive. And yet, as a Christian, there is nothing more beautiful than the sacrifice of the Savior.

mother full of grace

We had a fairly involved discussion about symbolitry and how it can quickly become idolotry, as well. I shared my confusion on the topic; living in Mexico at age 14, I was exposed to the Catholic tradition of stations of the cross for the first time. I also spent a good bit of time with a Muslim family that shunned any symbolotry in their home. My Methodist roots couldn’t make sense of the two extremes, which both seemed like the right fit for either family. As do my own beliefs — that praying to items rather than to God is missing the point.

I’ll be sharing a bit of the class here and there as we continue. I know it freaks a lot of my friends out that I talk about my faith, but the older I’ve gotten, the less I care. It is important to me, as is the continued study. My beliefs have changed and matured with time, as has my comfort level in discussing these matters. That said, I hope to never offend. My faith is an all-loving challenge and journey.

Cheers,

Kelli

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12 Responses

  1. Brent Bunker January 11, 2012

    Bully for You ! Understanding comes from learning and.being.aware.

  2. It looks like the secret to being a published author is only using the first letters of your names. Let’s get to it K.M. Donley.

  3. Looking forward to reading more on this topic.

  4. Poetry is a form of prayer, or at least it was first presented to me that way (in the Catholic home of childhood—I think there are as many forms of Catholicism as there are poems, but we never prayed to items. The stations were merely a form, like a meditation labyrinth).

    Eliot and Stevens—wow, you’re starting with tough but lovely ones. Links to my favorites can be found at http://www.tttreaders.blogspot.com/2011/09/hard-choices.html

    I’d love to hear more about both topics here:)

  5. I look forward to the sharing!

  6. Kelli,

    Thank you for sharing… as someone who struggles with making time to study and really walk the walk I should be walking I appreciate your candid sharing, it makes me think and challenges me to do better.

    Lisa

  7. Like Adam said. 😀

  8. Maria Paz January 12, 2012

    So interesting! I wouldn’t be bored to hear more about your class and thoughts!

  9. Awesome! Can’t wait to read more of what you are learning!

  10. Rachel Meyer January 13, 2012

    I would like to read more also! The class sounds fascinating.

  11. Please share more about what you’re learning. Im interested. Have you ever read Madeleine L’Engle’s thoughts on icons versus idols? I think it’s in Penguins and Golden Calves. It’s been a while since I read it but I remember enjoying her thoughts on the fine line between being reminded of the holy versus worshipping a substitute god.

  12. As a converted Catholic for 45 years now, I can tell you that the Saints and statues were one of my hardest Catholic traditions to embrace. But, once I began to look at both as symbols of friends to pray with and to, I was able to embrace it all with my head and heart. Traditions, symbols, prayer, poetry, music…it is all good. In Thailand, you will hear people say something like: “same, same, but different”.

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