Poetry in Faith & Worship

Since the current pandemic began the use of poetry both new and old, has provided an outlet for people to express their fears and hopes or to vent their anger and frustrations at the seemingly ever-upward spiral in Covid-19 deaths and the wastefulness of it all. I myself was fortunate to have had a Covid-related poem published in a charity anthology last summer and in October 2020, the same poem was published on a website called poetryandcovid.com, a project funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, University of Plymouth, and Nottingham Trent University. The poem I wrote concerned an inter-faith group I am involved with which used to meet in a local café over coffee and cake to discuss our respective faiths thereby gaining a greater understanding of our own faiths and each other in the multi-cultural Britain of today. Since lockdown however we have had to meet virtually through use of Zoom hence the poem’s title, Faith Meeting Faith through the Power of Zoom, a short little ditty which summed up how determined as a group we are to keep the conversation going. We still meet online but now on a Monday evening, but as before discuss anything and everything in the time we have, sharing everything from embarrassing incidents to showing off the results of our culinary endeavours on our Facebook page. One of my tasks once the pandemic has lifted and we can meet socially again, is to organise a poetry workshop where we can share with each other works from the rich tradition of Christian, Sikh, Hindu, Islamic and other religious poetry.

Poetry’s place as part of mainstream Christian faith and worship practices has perhaps not always been fully recognised or appreciated in the past, but in recent years has begun to take greater prominence both in traditional but also more modern styles of worship. As a Methodist Worship Leader, I sometimes am moved to include some poetry within my services but not always as you might expect.

During an Epiphany service I led last year, I read the poem Ballad of the Bread Man by Charles Causley (1917-2003) itself a take on the Gospel stories of the birth of Christ and the epiphany through to his crucifixion and resurrection but using modern imagery and language. Some may question the appropriateness but my reasoning then – and still – is that we should not be afraid to find new ways of sharing God’s Holy word if it resonates with those who find traditional liturgy stifling or even dare I say it – boring!

English literature has had more than its fair share of poets who were also Priests from John Donne (1572-1631), George Herbert (1593-1633), Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889) R.S Thomas (1913-2000) to modern Poet/Priests such as Malcolm Guite (b.1957). There have also been poets who have written about faith and spirituality in their work, one of my favourites being the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), who is most famous perhaps for the poem In the Bleak Midwinter later set to music and now a popular Christmas Carol. Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984) was a modern 20th century poet who also liked to reference his deep Christian Faith in his work along too with the myriad of other subjects he wrote about in his poetry. There are many other fine examples one could reflect on, but this would perhaps be more fitting to a book rather than a blog.

The key point to all this is that Poetry in whatever format or style does have a place in our faith and worship practices. Whatever your interest in or knowledge of the genre, there is plenty of suitable material which can be adapted for use if you so choose and there are innumerable resources in both Christian and non-Christian publications, so get googling. Lately I have been receiving blog postings from Cambridge based poet Malcolm Guite who we mentioned earlier. These postings are taken from his latest book, David’s Crown, which is a collection of 150 poems each one a response to the 150 psalms based on William Coverdale’s translation. If you are looking for some inspirational scripture-based poetry this is a must buy and is published by Canterbury Press.

A few years back while at Theological College (The Queen’s Foundation in Birmingham) as part of the Spirituality and Formation for Ministry module, I wrote a poem which reflected my own meandering journey of faith. In particular that period when I had turned away from any faith practice preferring instead the secular path to success and fulfilment in life, before illness once again led back to the real spiritual fulfilment in the faith that Christ gave us. The title is based on Luke 24:35 the story of the road to Emmaus and contains other biblical references which describe my life then and now and how it has brought me on this incredible journey this past decade or so. Enjoy!

My Emmaus Road

Then they told what happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24:35  NRSV

Who am I this confused soul?

Seeking a path to a destination as yet uncertain,

But yet wanting it to be made known.

Where faith and its joyful expression,

 Are projected onto a canvas of Spiritual Renewal.

Where the actions of a life less pure

Are not weighed down by the chains of guilt,

But instead, are cleansed by the love of one

Whose love is greatest above all.

Unlike the travellers walking with the unknown stranger,

My eyes had become blind to the sacrifice Christ made for me

and yet; I kept venturing back, wondering, if, maybe, perhaps

But no: I moved forward, ploughing a secular furrow

Serving not God, but his nemesis instead.

I had turned away from the true path,

Like the seed sown among thorns the word was heard,

But the cares of the world proved a louder calling.

Like the master of the talents, I sought to reap where I did not sow

And gather what I did not scatter.

A creed based not on harvesting the fruits of the vine,

But on the lure of pleasure and the pursuit of power.

Qoheleth’s wisdom became my Gospel, my source of truth

To take life as it comes; as surely the same fate comes to us all.

Yet when my own brush with mortality beckoned,

I began to seek a different path, where the seed could take root

And the word would be heard and acknowledged.

It is then that I find the path that I seek,

The community, the place, on my road to Emmaus

Where once again, Christ Jesus revealed himself to me. 

When I am not blogging or writing on matters of faith, I can also be found on https://blackcountrylondoner.wordpress.com where this and other more recent poems can be found.