By Kenton W. Smith, D.Min., DASD
The art of spiritual poetry (theopoetics) is the confluence of two rivers: Beauty and Presence flow together and come to speech effortlessly. Intruders like impatience, performance, and ego are pretenders that try too hard.
Inspiration has a life of its own.
But not from me today.
Meanwhile insistent quail call,
mourning dove, hummingbird,
chilled wet air,
sunlight beaming brightly
from a thousand drops like LEDs.
Heavy clouds passing ever so slowly.
The earth speaks for itself
When did prayer become a way to feel alive?
How did sitting still and doing nothing become fulfilling?
I don’t know,
but I’m never turning back.
The art of spiritual poetry and spiritual direction are best expressed in simple terms. That which is most personal is most common. In Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Lost Skull the fictional archeologist Dr.Henry Walton (Indiana Jones) misadventures into a dangerous cavern where he is trapped by an ageless knight protecting the mythical Holy Grail. Jones is tempted by the knight to discern whether for life or death which of the hundreds of ornate cups is the actual grail? Jones is irresistibly drawn to the most beautiful of all the glittering cups. But he draws back, hesitant, measuring the temptation. Then he sees one unadorned wooden cup hidden among the bright shiny things. Of course, the common cup is the Holy Grail of the Last Supper of the Christ.
Writing spiritual poetry and guiding spiritual direction share Jones’ temptation for the elegant, brilliant, and lofty. Words and images can be bright shiny things. But spiritual experience is humbling, it comes from the other side, and is not ours to control. Spiritual experience has a life of its own shared with us in real time, usually a brief time, and disappears into memory only to be rediscovered at a time of its own choosing.
The temptation of theopoetics and spiritual direction is through elegant knowledge to unintentionally distract others from the Holy Grail of self-discovery. That is, to do for others what they must do for themselves. The nature of spiritual experience like the nature of the natural world is the extraordinary in the ordinary, yet common, plentiful, present, and free for everyone. When I am in session with a directee the human stories are expressed in nothing more than everyday speech. In fact, most often the experience of the experience cannot be expressed or described except in emotion, sensation, wonder and AHAH, or inquiry such as, “What was that?” One directee described spiritual experience as a “whoosh.” But it all threads to one Source.
My hope and desire in theopoetics and spiritual direction and the notions that accompany them is not to define spiritual experience but to invite the reader or directee to set down in their own words, emotions, sensations, or art forms, the quality of their own experience. My belief is that when we do, we will know the Life of life in our own life and there will be no turning back.
1 From an unpublished manuscript, Sitting Still Doing Nothing: Contemplative Theopoetics in a Cultivate Garden and Wild Landscape, p. 101-103.
By Rev. Erik Swanson
I’ve been a pastor for most of my life. I love to promote really good things the church has done through time. I like to celebrate the places where she has lived out the gospel in powerful ways and made healthy contributions to the world. Sometimes, I have gone too far in holding up the good.
Particularly since the murder of George Floyd, I have become ever more painfully aware that there is another side of the church that often gets glossed over. The Church has an underbelly. It has participated in the shadow side of our world. It has turned a blind eye, and participated, in injustice.
Lately, Spirit has led me to engaging with the local indigenous people of the Muwekma-Ohlone tribe. Their chairwoman is a remarkable woman whose people have been through unimaginable suffering- much of it, at the hands of the Church through the mission system. A system of the Church that was responsible for some of the greatest atrocities that humanity can perpetuate against other human beings. Clearly this flies in the face of what Jesus taught his disciples.
I am convinced that we cannot be those who turn away any longer. As those who seek to follow in the way of love, justice, compassion and grace, we have a lot of work to do to actually face into what has been done AND work for healing. Yes, this work can feel enormous, heavy and uncertain of where/how to start.
One way we are taking a small step towards healing is having a conversation with the tribe’s Chairwoman. Would you join us to listen and learn more? We’ll hear her story, the story of her tribe, and how their struggle is currently unfolding. Another way we are seeking to engage this work is by partnering with them in a recycling project, as well as, planning a land acknowledgment. Small acts, but don't we have to start somewhere?
Even if you can't come, would you join me in asking the question: How can I face into injustice beyond my fragility, and wanting to defend or deflect? I am convinced this is holy work. I wonder, for you today, where might you being called to act today?
If you would like to join me in facing this issue head on, with hearts open to what the Spirit might be leading us into, I look forward to seeing you on the zoom screen Sunday, August 14th at noon.