I have one of those minds which likes to jump all over the place. This makes many spiritual practices difficult for me. But I’ve recently discovered a practice that really clicks with the way I’m wired. I’m writing this post with the hope that perhaps it will spark or confirm an idea for some of you. This practice is based on a simple principle: the poetry of the Bible teaches us how we can talk to and about God.
I don’t think it’s an accident that a course on the Bible’s poetry came into my life at a time of intense inner confusion. I could endlessly explicate rational arguments about my situation, but my heart remained unaffected. I really needed to start letting the poetry of the Bible transform my prayer.
What does divinely inspired writing give us when it takes the form of people speaking to God–especially in the form of poetry? One answer that has helped me is this: prayer is an art which must be actively cultivated, and an art in which the poetry of the Bible gives us endless guidance and instruction.
Sometimes I sit alone in my dark apartment or I walk among the cotton fields off campus and read aloud or sing a psalm until the words seep into my veins. But other times I dive into the battlefield around my soul a different way. I write. I start with a poem or poems in scripture and look at the ways David or Mary or Habbakuk express their feelings, chose images, structure their prayers, search their own and others’ testimonies for food to nourish their trust of the Lord, allow their egos to be smashed by the great works of God in nature and history, etc., etc., etc.
And then, emulating these techniques, I write.
I come back to my writing after some time to compare it to the poem(s) that inspired it and to ask: What have I learned about the deficiencies in my own praying? In my heart?
Have you ever experienced a confusing situation that you felt like scripture didn’t give you specific enough guidance on? That has been these past two months for me. But allowing God’s Word to counsel me in this way has been so helpful. It has not always made me “feel better”, often showing me deep sins that I had been unaware of. But, as always, these discoveries have overwhelmed me with the love in Jesus’ gaze as He looks at me, and knows me, and still calls me to follow Him.
Part of a prayer I wrote recently:
Lord, how long must I gaze
into the dark swirling mist ahead
the thick glass in front of my face
through which each shape is rendered
and with each hour of gazing, I am left only more troubled than before?
my eyes more stretched in pain
my brows so tight with focus
my lips pursed to the point of cracking
Lord, how long must I gaze
trying to make out the future before me
forgetting that You are the Author of all?
In my actions, I have been faithful.
I have been true with my words. but my heart….
nothing will do for my heart,
except that You set yourself as a seal upon it.
it is lost without Your brand burnt into its skin.
I have nothing without You living within me.
You are my Shepherd.
You lead me in the right pastures.
You make me eat the grass that brings life.
I know I can count on You to cure me from these longings for pastures that are not my own.
I know because I can feel the cries of my flesh under the branding iron as it brands me as one of Your own.
Today, the words echoing through my mind come from Psalm 2: “You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potters vessel”. “They” are the kings in the world who plot to break the bonds of the Lord’s covenant and cast them away. I meet “them” in the doubts that plague me at night. I hear their words sometimes slip into the speech of those around me, subtly prompting me to doubt the Lord’s power. But the words of Psalm 2, so much more cosmic than anything I could ever write, are there to hold my feeble loyalty fast where it belongs.
How has the poetry of the Bible ministered to you? Which passages of biblical poetry are particularly powerful to you right now? Have you ever emulated the biblical poets in your own writing and prayer? I’m excited to have everyone share their poetry at The Grove on Friday!
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