Visit the Abbey of the Arts online retreat platform to access your programs:

Lectio Divina Unleashed: Part Two (Poetry)

“People turn to poems for some kind of illumination,
for revelations that help them to survive.”

-Denise Levertov, “Poetry, Prophecy and Survival”

Poetry is language illuminated.  When we read poetry we are reading the same words we use for prose, but because of the compactness of images and the poet’s way of pointing us deeper than what we expect to see, poetry has the potential to reveal the sacred to us in new ways.  Much of scripture is written in poetic form, making use of metaphor, rhythm, meter, sound, and image to help us grasp an awareness of God.  Praying lectio divina with poetry is probably the most straightforward application of this prayer form to the arts.

Essentially you select a poem that speaks to a sense of the holy for you.  There are any number of wonderful poets to choose from.  I adore Denise Levertov, Rilke, and Rumi just to name a few.  There are also many good anthologies of sacred poetry available.

Use the same process I outlined in the previous post for praying with scripture, and see what happens when you take time to move into the language and images of poetry.  Are you able to consider this a sacred text?  Are you willing to believe that God can speak to us through all kinds of creation?  Let your word or phrase linger with you throughout the day, repeating it to yourself at various times.  Or write it on a post-it note and put it by your computer monitor if you spend a lot of time there.  See what happens when you allow poetry to infuse your awareness of the many ways God speaks.

If you are feeling especially moved by the language of poetry, perhaps your prayer response to how the word or phrase unfolds within you can be your own poem.  What would a poem about your “yes” to God say?

Coming next will be music and icons. . .

-Christine Valters Paintner

You might also enjoy

Monk in the World Guest Post: Meg Munro

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Meg Munro’s reflection and paintings on her relationship with the Beloved Mother-Virgin. I had been despairing that my passion for painting was

Read More »

7 Responses

  1. Yes, and thank God for the people who come into our lives to introduce us to those different windows and doors! :) Wow, what a beautiful day it IS!

  2. I agree with Denise Levertov’s quote . For me, writing or reading poetry that combines concrete images of nature with human nature and/or nature poetry and prose that evokes emotion without mention to ‘self’, evokes the Sacredness of God within my soul.

  3. Hi Wendy, glad you like this post too. Obviously when I get to a book stage there will be much more detail exploring poetry as sacred text, but this is a good practice for me to begin writing down these ideas. I have been leading folks in praying this way for so long I appreciate the chance to articulate it in writing. I agree that revelation is not a one-time event, but an ongoing process. I think we often put God in far too many boxes, limiting the ways God can speak.
    A sacramental vision celebrates the divine presence in all of creation and that is one of the things I love about using lectio in this way. It invites us to extend our contemplative gaze to the whole of life. I relish finding the sacred in more and more places, and if we are in community, whether with a congregation, a faith group, or a spiritual director, there are ways to find guidance for what truly is speaking of holiness and what are our own projections.

    Welcome Martha, glad you found your way here! Actually the Norris book of poems is a collection of her work published a few years ago, but thankfully still available. If you want to receive emails with new blog posts, Feedblitz is a good service. If you want to be on our local Seattle events email list, let me know!
    Blessings, Christine

  4. Thank you for this. A friend passed your blog (?) on to me. I am very grateful! I’m a new fan of Kathleen Norris. I can’t get enough of her writings.
    I didn’t know she had a new book of poetry. Thanks. Please put me on your list.

  5. ” What would a poem about your “yes” to God say?” That really spoke to me!

    The poeticness of the Bible has always deeply struck me. Its why I have a really difficult time with modern translations that take the poetry away, they are taking its deeper heart and voice away. The poetry, the images, the emotions evoked, the healing myth, that to me is how Gods Word really speaks to the human heart.

    It can take courage nowadays though for a Christian to admit feeling God’s presence in any other prose but the Bible. And saying He can only speak there is kind of like saying we only had miracles long long ago and not now. A horrble and scary thought. God is here for us in all times, not just some.

    Still though, I can understand the caution there. If we meditate on other writings it can reveal Gods love to us, or it can just clutter up the mind and block that “yes”, or even do deeper harm. Its the whole matter of discerning what to open to. It can become really “clogging”, and even dangerous, being open to too much. Yet its also rather a slap in the face to God to block His voice out when He speaks where you may not have expected Him to.

    Lots of food for thought here Christine. And very poetically put : )
    I am especially now looking forward to your lectio divina icon post when the time is right, very much. My own draw to “icon-ic living” or “an icon-ic rule of life” (two little phrases that came up and wont seem to go away) is still kind of mulling…