Why Ponder Poetry? by Diana Engel
Diana Engel is a Spiritual Discernment Workshop Facilitator for Growing Edge Resources. A poet and avid reader of contemporary verse, she believes in the transformative power of verse. Check out her Excavating Light Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/excavatinglight
Since early 2020, we have been living through an unusual time that tests our spiritual mettle, a period of global pandemic, racial injustices and egregious violence. We may have found ourselves feeling depressed and disheartened. Many are grieving, having lost loved ones to COVID 19. Isolation, fear and loneliness can take up residence in our hearts.
Poetry is a path back to hope. Reading and contemplating verse forces us to be still, to center our hearts and minds on the passages before us. This is a healthy place to be in the midst of our chaotic world.
Verse, whether it be Psalms or a secularly written poem by a contemporary poet such as Mary Oliver or Wendell Berry, speaks of the eternal, and in so doing, forces us to face what is of greatest consequence — our souls.
Between 1000 and 1500 B.C. when David and others were writing psalms, they contended with great uncertainty, with enemies who plotted violence – a brutal and fearful time to live. Cries of suffering and alternately shouts of joy and praise found in the Book of Psalms speak to our human condition.
Consider the third stanza of Psalm 42 (KJV):
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
At the end of this psalm, David answers his own disquiet:
Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.
Our current world of disquiet can throw us into spiritual chaos. How we need to be reminded (thank you, David!) that maintaining our hope in God is critical to achieving inner peace. The word countenance in the context of Psalm 42 is important: Countenance means to give assurance or courage to. David tells us his positive attitude of assurance in God and God’s presence in his life help him overcome his inner turmoil. This is a heartening message we desperately need to hear!
Poetry is a bridge to our emotional and spiritual selves, teaching us how to live authentically and fully. I discovered its power when a timid, insecure teenager and return to its life-giving sustenance every day, especially in seasons of heartache or unexpected problems, when life slams curve-balls into my path.
Here is the ending of Mary Oliver’s poem, “When Death Comes:”
… I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
If I have made of my life something particular and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
We don’t want to “visit” this world; we desire to fully thrive here.
We ponder poetry to turn over what is beautiful, good and real,
to discover ourselves on a deep level,
to gain a heart of gratitude for our world,
to learn how to live.