Poetry + Theology
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.
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.