“All world views yield poetry to those who believe them by the mere fact of being believed, and nearly all have certain poetical merits whether you believe them or not. This is what we should expect. Man is a poetical animal and touches nothing which he does not adorn.”CS Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?”
What does poetry have to do with being a good man?
It might seem a strange connection, but poetry, and poets, have been the source of inspiration for billions throughout the history of the world. Without question, a large portion of those inspiring poems is from the Bible itself – primarily found in the Book of Psalms. Simultaneously, found elsewhere in the Bible are the poems/songs of other great men and women of the faith – Moses, Miriam, Hannah, Zechariah, and the Prophets. The Holy Spirit found poetry necessary for the transmission of the Good News of Jesus Christ – for the strengthening of faith and for the comfort of consciences. If God used poetry in this way for our benefit, we ought also to use poetry in our current culture. Thus, our society needs poets. Men need to be poets.
Now, don’t misunderstand that to mean “men exclusively need to be poets.” That thought is just absurd to believe. From the foregoing examples, it should be obvious that women need to be poets too. (Arguably the greatest poem in the whole Bible is from a woman: the Virgin Mary’s song, “The Magnificat,” Luke 1:46-55.) But that discussion is not within the scope of this article. My encouragement here is for men – young men, husbands, and fathers – to be poets for the benefit of their families and their communities.
So does that mean every man should carry around a notebook and jot down a limerick or haiku when the mood strikes them? Maybe. But what I can say confidently is that it means men need to converse poetically with their families, their congregations, and their communities. What does this mean? Let’s get some linguistics out of the way first.
Etymologically, the word poetry is from the Greek ποιέω – to make; to do. Poetry, in that sense, is what is made or constructed. The one making or doing is a poet. In the history of the world, from every civilization, poets constructed poems for record keeping, instructing, inspiring, reflecting, and meditating, to name a few purposes. Those poems served as a way to express the human condition (both tragic and comedic) and offer insight or wisdom to humanity. The poet recounted events not simply in the language of raw facts and hard data (as we have become so accustomed to in our modern age), but in metaphorical and rhythmic language in order to move the hearts and minds of his or her hearer or reader. The poet was a necessary part of the culture – as through the poet the past was brought to inspire the present; the future was presented as a goal for which to aspire. Today, in our culture, society needs these poets. Men need to be those poets.
How men can become poets?
First, we need to recover a sense of awe for what is good, right, beautiful, and true. That sounds simple on the front end, but we live in a world that has devalued those things. Modern man has succumbed to the belief that the individual is the arbiter of truth – the individual gets to choose what is true for himself. Similarly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Thus beauty is no longer a transcendent quality, but simply a value judgment made by an individual. Lastly, good and right have become relativized to a person’s individual tastes and preferences. The current climate of our culture has emptied these concepts of any objective meaning and replaced them with subjective interpretation. Hence, the need for the poet to reclaim that sense of awe.
Of all people, Christians are best equipped to proclaim awe. We are best equipped to magnify goodness, beauty, and truth. We have the story of Creation – the story of the Artist and Poet, who out of sheer delight and love spoke into being the entire cosmos. We have His handiwork inscribed on each of us as we have been made in His image – as the echo of that marvelous Speaking. Yes, that image has been devastated by sin, but we also have the Word made flesh who gave His life to save us from sin. We have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, cleansed from guilt and shame, and restored to the rhyme and rhythm of God’s Will. Moreover, we have this Artist and Poet’s very Word for us. We have His Word that uses poetry to proclaim His glory – to proclaim His goodness through His mercy, grace, and love; to proclaim that “He has made all things beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11); to proclaim His truth of the redemption and consummation of this world. As Christian men, we are to speak this, proclaim this – even sing this – and lead others to speak and proclaim this too.
Second, we need to engage in the poetics of our time. Our time, especially in the Western world, has become increasingly more deconstructive versus constructive (poetic). In what remains after the deconstruction, people have become desperate in their search for meaning and purpose. The unfortunate conclusion that many are coming to is: there is no meaning to life beyond what I assign to it. In other words, all meaning, particularly ultimate meaning, is self-chosen. This self-chosen meaning becomes an incredible burden to bear each and every day of life. The poetics of our time become songs of hopelessness and despair – especially for men. It is precisely at this point Christians can engage. We can use the poetics of our Good and Gracious God to bring hope and life.
Whether from Psalms, hymns, or poems by Christians, we men need to counter those hopeless and despairing emotions. We do that not by denying those emotions (read Psalm 88), but by pointing to the greater reality of hope that lies ahead – the culmination of the poetic songs of the angels and hosts of heaven – eternal life with God. Again, if poetry is aimed at inspiring, uplifting, and affecting the emotion of a person, we need to be poets for these moments. Perhaps an example is in order for this.
One of the practices common to many pastoral/chaplain visits in hospitals is the singing of hymns. On numerous occasions in my own experience, it was not the explanation of the Scriptures in prosaic form – the doctrinal proclamations of Jesus’ promises (either in Liturgical form or sermon) – that roused the patient’s spirits. While those truths were necessary to hear and are always beneficial, what connected with the person in the hospital bed (and those sitting around) was the singing or reading of hymns. The poetry, combined with music, brought to life the doctrinal truths that had already been declared. Hymns such as, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me,” and “Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart” serve as that poetry to uplift the soul in praise to its Creator. Those poetics, sung from the lips of those suffering, brought calm, peace, and most importantly, hope. As men, as husbands, fathers, and leaders, we must appreciate the impact of this type of poetry.
Third, we need to cultivate the creative and artistic expression through poetry to the glory of God and for the benefit of our neighbor. That might sound like a daunting task, but it is actually much simpler than that. It begins with listening to poetry that does this already. The Psalms and hymns are a great place to start. Then, challenge yourself to express the beauty of God’s good gifts – Creation, Redemption, and Consummation as broad categories; your wife your children; your congregation as specifics – in poetic form. That might mean writing something down; that might mean creating a picture; that might simply mean speaking it to God in prayer. Whatever it is, use that outlet to develop a greater and deeper appreciation of what God has given to you. Let that resonate from your heart. If you need examples, read Psalm 23, 46, 103, 148.
So why does society need poets – and need men to be poets? We need to be able to communicate the glory of God in more than simply propositional truths, for God Himself communicates to us in more than propositional truths. Propositional truths are necessary, but without poetry, they are simply a structure – the bare walls of a well-built house. Poetry brings to life and amplifies the intent of that structure – decorating the walls with magnificent murals. When we as men communicate this beauty and goodness to our families, our congregations, and our communities – life will flourish.
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