April is National Poetry Month. This year on the first Monday of National Poetry Month I shared a poem with the readers of Unbound. It was a joy to do and I thank Lee Catoe and Christian Iosso for the opportunity. Poetry is an important part of my spiritual and professional life. Professionally, I use poems in presentations, sermons and in worship services. They reflect the blessings of having led five pilgrimages to Iona (with two more are in the planning stages!). I’ve also been a co-leader on four Habitat for Humanity Global Village builds to Guatemala and Columbia. On all of these journeys, I prepare a collection of poems for the participants. The poetry then becomes part of our shared experience. I would be happy to share these collections. If anyone would like to know more about Habitat for Humanity Global Village or Iona pilgrimages, I can be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Poetry is also part of my spiritual life. It is, using a phrase Chris offered, one way I set or reset my inner compass. Sometimes it is simply fun to read a poem, take it in and move on. There is nothing wrong with doing that. I do that often. But, when I sit down to read a poem specifically for spiritual companionship or spiritual nurture I approach the poem a bit more intentionally. I would welcome sharing notes on approach with others. When reading a poem for spiritual companionship, to reset my inner compass, I approach the poem in a way similar to way the Lectio Divina is used in reading scripture. I find a quiet, comfortable place. Depending on where I am and what feels comfortable, I read the poem out loud or to myself, three times (at least).
- After the first time I pause and ask the question, “Over all, what is the poem about, what does it say?” I reflect in silence.
- I read the poem again and ask “What phrase or word jumps out at me and grabs my attention? Why?” I reflect in silence.
- After the third time I ask, “What is this poem asking me to do or to think about as I move away from it?”Again, I reflect in silence.
Sometimes, after that process, it is almost impossible not to meditate or write in a journal.
I invite you to consider poems as companions on the way, on the journey of life, as a way to set or reset our inner compasses. Beginning in the middle of May I will write a monthly poetry column for Unbound similar to the weekly series in April. In a way, this re-boots a series I did years ago for the Witherspoon Society’s journal, Network News. (That was before they became part of Presbyterian Voices for Justice, PV4J).
The name of this new series: Setting the Inner Compass.
I am often asked where I go poem-hunting. There are websites, favorite poets, and many, many good poetry anthologies. I close this column by suggesting several poetry anthologies.
joy: 100 poems edited by Christian Wiman (Yale University Press, 2017).
Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness poems
Phyllis Cole-Dai and Ruby R. Wilson Editors (Grayson Books, 2017).
Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness and Connection
Edited by James Crews (Green Writers Press, 2019)
Essential Poems from the Staying alive Trilogy edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books, 2012). This book is published in the U.K. and a compilation of 100 poems published selected from the expansive three-book series: Staying Alive, Being Alive and Being Human.
The POETRY of IMPERMANENCE, MINFULNESS, and JOY edited by John Brehm (Wisdom Publications, 2017).
Rev. Dave Brown is the former pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Tacoma where he continues to live. He writes and is creator/host of Blues Vespers, one of the PNW (Pacific North West) Interfaith Amigos, and a member of the PCUSA Education Roundtable.