Sharp About Your Prayers

the challenges, absurdities, and joys of an urban faith

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Why Poetry?

November 6th, 2014 · No Comments · Faith and the City

christianwimanThis Sunday, FAPC welcomes Christian Wiman. He will be speaking in the Kirkland Chapel following the 11:00 am service. After that, he will sign copies of his books. I don’t want to over-hype this event, but Wiman is well worth your time. In reviewing his most recent collection of poems, Once in the West, Jill Baumgaertner calls Wiman’s voice, “among the most compelling in contemporary poetry.”

It is risky to predict the future, but I feel certain that Wiman’s verse will stand the test of time. He’s that good. Years from now, chances are you’ll look back and say with pride, “I heard him speak at my church once.”

Now, I know that pushing poetry to urban people who pride themselves on short, precise communication is risky. Mention poems and most New Yorkers picture a guy in a beret reciting a few rambling stanzas in some coffee shop down in the Village. Poetry, we suspect, is not for us. It is avant-garde. It requires a dictionary. It is work.

These charges are mostly true, and still, I would urge people of faith to read poetry. Here’s a list of my top-ten reasons why you should put yourself on a regular diet of poetry, and consequently my case for why you should attend the Wiman event at FAPC this Sunday!

SBJ’s Top 10 Reasons People of Faith Should Read Poetry

  • Reason #10: You already like poetry more than you think! Most of your favorite Bible passages are poetry. All of the Psalms. The Magnificat. The Beatitudes. 1 Corinthians 13.
  • Reason #9: The world and our emotions are complicated. Our impulses for good and for ill are more convoluted than we wish they were. Poetry gets this. It mirrors life’s complexity and reflects it back at us in ways that are frequently uncomfortable, but also stark, honest and true!
  • Reason #8: It is good to learn new words. Not to impress friends (although there is that!), but because life is thick and rich, and we need lots of apt, lyrical, evocative words to convey life’s ebb and flow to each other.
  • Letterman_IllustrationReason #7: Because sickness and death really do shadow our every step.
  • Reason #6: Because it is far better to wrestle with (and shout back at) our fears, than it is to repress them.
  • Reason #5: Because we love hymns and they are (quite simply) a compilation of almost 2000 years of our best poetry.
  • Reason #4: Because you are wicked smart and poetry stumps you.
  • Reason #3: Because it ought to be hard (if not impossible) to capture the Almighty with our words.
  • Reason #2: Because dogs, sunflowers, rain glistening on New York streets, fresh cut pears, a picture of your grandmother, the smell of jasmine, and the rough skin of a friend’s hand in your hand all create feelings that you want to last and last. Poetry makes them last. Or at least it helps.
  • Reason #1: Because the Word became flesh and dwells among us. (John 1: 14)

See you in worship,


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