“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