Saturday, April 28, 2018

Poems Pointing to the Divine

At the beginning of April, I knew that we would do something on our campus to celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day.  I knew I would greet arriving students with a poem in the morning.  But so many poems in the world--how to choose?

I looked at several of the booklets put together for the day, both the 2018 day and the past Poem in Your Pocket Days.  Nothing leapt out at me:  too historical, too male, too white.  I thought about passing out the poems that would prompt our food treats, but I had the same trouble.  Hmmm. 

Then I thought back to our church's Lenten experience of reading Mary Oliver's poems, and using the study guide from SALT.  I thought about the ways those poems are profoundly moving--and yet so quiet, so easy to grasp.  I thought of my dad who attended with me on a Sunday and weeks later called to be reminded of Mary Oliver's name, because he couldn't get the poem out of his head.

I think that the most famous lines that Mary Oliver ever penned come from "The Summer Day":

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

It's an important question, phrased in an evocative way, and so important for college students--and for all of us.  So I decided that would be one of the poems in our pockets on Thursday.  I remembered loving the first lines of "Wild Geese":

"You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting."

I decided to hand out this poem too.  As I was planning, I thought it was good to have two poems to hand out.  In retrospect, I wish I had printed both on one sheet, double-sided perhaps.

I love the theology of these poems.  It's a theology of love and respect.  It's a theology that tells us that we are worthy.  It's a theology that tells us we don't have forever, so quit wasting our precious days.  It's a theology rooted in nature, but in the every day kind of nature, not the travelling to a distant mountain slope with sherpas to assist us kind of nature.  It's a theology so understated that many readers likely don't even recognize it as a theology.

I love that the poems are short--easy to read in a single sitting.  I love that the natural elements draw us in to hear the central message.  I noticed that students glanced at the sheet I handed them and then kept reading.  I didn't find those poems discarded in trash cans.

I did something similar close to the 4th of July.  I handed out copies of the Declaration of Independence, a document that didn't have the same effect on students as the poetry of Mary Oliver.

I want to write these kinds of poems, poems that point towards the Divine, rather than shoving readers in that direction.

No comments: