This one is for everyone. This week at Velvet Ashes we’re visiting with authors of books that we think will add value to your life and experience serving cross-culturally. At first glance, you could wonder why a book of poetry made the short list, and I’ll tell you, it’s because poetry has the unique ability to make us more ourselves, and ourselves being formed ever more into the image of Christ, is the most we can ever hope to offer the world.
Please welcome Dale Fredrickson, pastor and poet, author of Keeping Pulse: Poems for the Heart. If you’d like to engage in this conversation in the comments, you’ll be eligible to win a copy of his book.
Dale, tell us about yourself: what are your interests and vocation? when and where did poetry capture you?
I recently watched the Netflix show called Chef’s Table where they shared the story of Enrique Olvera’s famous dish called Molé Madre, which translates the Mother of Molé. Isn’t that a great name? As the storyline unfolded I was transfixed.
Traditional Mexican mold is made with chilies, tomatoes, dried fruits, spices, nuts and tortillas. Enrique honors this traditional cuisine, letting the ingredients age, and then he adds his own novel ingredients like bananas, hibiscus, and apples. The result is a delicious fusion of tradition and innovation. “Mold Madre is a breathing, living being,” says Enrique. For 400 years this dish has been growing and developing in fresh and unique ways. This is where we pause and say together, “Holy Molé Madre!”
My mind began to compare making Molé to Christianity to my love for poetry. In the same way the honored traditional mole has developed, the ancient way of Christian life continues to develop. Blending tradition and innovation is not to be feared but wisely crafted into something compelling, something that brings more meaning and purpose to our lives.
This is why I am on the planet. Like Chef Olvera, I take the rich traditions of Christian Faith and cook them carefully with new and fresh ways of thinking about God. The result is a fusion of tradition and innovation that wakes the senses and expands possibilities. Often, as I think about an aspect of Christian Spirituality and Faith I am looking for ways to communicate that aren’t stale or clichéd. I find that only poetry with its use of images and cadence, its vulnerability and strangeness, have the power to open up faith for us in new and fresh ways. So yeah, that’s the best way I can explain my vocation as pastor and poet. One more time: “Holy Molé Madre!”
What inspired this book? Who is it for?
Have you ever been in a hospital room and noticed the heart monitor? Did you pause and hear that thump-thump, thump-thump? When you hear that beat, you are hyper-aware of the gift of life. There’s actually an eerie sense of wonder about that rhythm. A few years ago, a family asked me to join them in the hospital as they said goodbye to their 88-year-old dad, grandpa, and great grandpa. As he lay there with the steady beat of his heart pounding, his family popped open a bottle of wine and for over two hours, shared stories. There was laughter and tears, joy and grief. I stood in the background in awe of this beautiful moment and when it came to an end we held hands and prayed. I drove away from that hospital with tears in my eyes and I couldn’t stop thinking about the power of the human heart. I’m not talking about the heart as a blood-pump but the heart as the vital center of thoughts, actions, and emotions. The heart as a metaphor for our highest loves, the life force of our being. I was so moved that I decided I would write a series of poems that reflected on the heart. My book is really an extended reflection on Proverbs 4:23 – “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”
The poems in this book forced me to think about the role of emotions in human life. I came across a philosopher who wrote: “Emotions are engagements with the world that give us insight into the world.” This idea suggests that emotions are not secondary reactions but essential to human living and that they have intelligence that leads us to deeper purpose and meaning. This idea began to open things up for me and with each poem I attempted to explore what my emotions were teaching me about being a dad, a son, and a flawed human who experiences joy and sadness, hope and despair, beauty and love. The result was Keeping Pulse: Poems for the Heart.
This book is for anyone who hungers for a deeper spiritual experience. It’s for those of us who want a Christian Faith that moves beyond easy answers and leads us to beauty, mystery, and ultimately a love for God and others that transcends differences. I wrote these poems to be read slowly, thoughtfully, and in short chunks of time because that works best for most of the folks I know with full lives.
What potential does poetry have to shape and inspire us? Why does it matter?
Poetry breaks and builds up; it keeps us attentive to the wounds and the wonders of life with God. There’s something very important about the musicality, memorability, and imaginative power that poetry offers us. The strangeness of poetic language can often help us to see things in new and fresh ways or poems can gift us with a word of hope in a season of pain. Poetry is an ancient art form that carries with it the power to slow us down, give us hope, and heal our lives. As the Poet, Marie Howe said, “Art helps us to let our heart break open, rather than close.” My Grandma used to read me the Psalms, some of the best poems ever written, just before she tucked me into bed. I remember how those faith-filled poems could break me open and put me back together again. With just a few lines my heart had to name my loneliness, my despair but then suddenly the poem would turn and I would be flooded with a sense of community and hope. Poetry is a refuge for us in a world that often is wild and unpredictable. Poetry is the sustenance we need in order to live healthy, flourishing lives.
Many thanks to Dale for being with us today. Now it’s your turn:
How has poetry opened faith for you in new, fresh ways? What experiences have made you reflect on the heart as a vital center?
Leave a comment to be entered in the drawing to win a copy of Keeping Pulse.
Dale is a pastor and poet from Denver, Colorado. He’d like to inspire the entire world but finds that inspiring himself and his family and friends is work enough. He writes and speaks about beauty and misery and his favorite story is the one about how love surprises us in the end. He serves as the Lead Pastor at Lakewood United Methodist Church in Lakewood, CO where he fails a lot. On his best days, he lives by Samuel Beckett’s motto, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” To learn more about Dale and his other projects check out his website www.dalefredrickson.com.
 Solomon, Robert. True to Our Feelings: What our Emotions are Really Telling us; (see pages 1-10).