Are you someone who “doesn’t really get” poetry? Do you love poems? I’m hoping to bring together people in both categories in my five-week Lenten class called “Praying with Poetry,” which is hosted by Lifelong Learning and starts online on Thursday, March 2.
Art Made out of Words
A lot of us learned in high school to read poems as if they were codes to crack or equations to solve with so-called “hidden meanings” to find. But I want to invite people to experience good poetry as art made out of words, speaking even more to our hearts than to our minds. The language of a poem is a different medium than language that conveys a single message. A poem is made out of words the way that a painting is made of paint or a musical piece made of notes and sounds. It can’t be summarized, and there isn’t one “right” way of reading a poem.
More like music and art, a poem communicates by inviting a response that comes out of emotion, intuition, whatever your own impression is. A good poem makes you say, “Yes, I understand now, more than I did before” or “Yes, this speaks to my experience; it names something I had no words for.” Or sometimes it just elicits a gasp that says, “Yes, that’s true! Amen!”
In my experience, the kind of reading that good poetry invites also translates into closer attention to the world and the people around us, a deeper awareness of what we really feel and care about, and a fuller appreciation of both the pain and the richness of life. That is why I like to invite people to approach poems in a spirit of prayer.
“Reading a Poem Whole” as a Prayer Practice
In this class we’ll walk through a process of reading with some of my favorite poems (chosen because I like them: I make no apology about this!). I call this process “reading a poem whole.” Together we will:
- Read and listen to poems
- Pause and meditate on what we’ve heard
- Write something in response (not necessarily for sharing)
- Quietly and deeply, pray
During this process, we’ll notice how the words of poetry, crafted by wise poets, can actually shape our vision and our openness to the world and so deepen our relationship to the Holy One.
Course Schedule and Topics
Here’s a preview of what we’ll be doing over these five weeks:
- Week 1 (March 2) – Exploring poetry as contemplative practice: reading in a fresh and prayerful way
- Week 2 (March 9) – Letting poems invite us into a spiritual practice of attentiveness
- Week 3 (March 16) – Letting poems convict us: poetry that calls us to honesty, repentance, and transformation
- Week 4 (March 23) – Exploring how poetry can deepen our practice of intercession, calling us to see one another more deeply across barriers of race, culture, and various forms of “othering”
- Week 5 (March 30) – Poems out of scripture: poetry reading and sharing as we turn toward Holy Week
I’m still choosing the poems to use this time around, but I can say that among the poets I love and will be reading or rereading are Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, Lucille Clifton, Joy Harjo, Vassar Miller, Denise Levertov, Scott Cairns, Maya Angelou, Naomi Shihab Nye, Gerard Manley Hopkins, R.S. Thomas, George Herbert, Jane Kenyon, maybe some of my own poetry, and the list goes on and on. Class members may also bring favorite poems to share. I love learning how favorite poems touch people who are encountering them for the first time.
I hope our time together will open up for all a Lenten feast of prayer.
How to Join the Course
All adults are welcome to participate! The class meets online for five sessions on Thursday evenings from 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. eastern time, March 2 – 30, 2023.
To find out more about the course and to register, just follow this link:
Information and Registration for Praying with Poetry