Why Christians Must Read Poetry — Part I

When the Sadducees asked Jesus about the resurrection in Mark 12 Jesus responded by telling them they did not know the Scriptures. I assume that many of our questions and problems are answered in the Bible. Actually I’m for certain that they all are. But not just questions about God and Jesus and how to live, but even more personal questions, like: Who am I? What is my purpose?

When we read, whether it’s the Bible, or a novel, or a book of poetry, when we study and think and analyze, we are apprehending truth, not just once, but over and over again. Word by word, sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter. It’s a process that changes us from the inside out. Edward Hirsch describes this effect in reading poetry, “Reading poetry is an adventure in renewal, a creative act, a perpetual beginning, a rebirth of wonder.”

But reading (and what we’ll similarly call study) is a discipline we must practice and learn. Because reading challenges and changes us. This is more than just sitting down to enjoy a book. This is an intentional pursuit of growing and learning. As J.P. Moreland says in The Lost Virtue of Happiness, “A mature Christian mind thinks skillfully about all of life from a biblical perspective and has the developed ability to stay focused on God throughout the day.” This isn’t limited to just the Bible, although that should be a main focus of our study, but history books, novels, textbooks, poems, and even movies and television (for the same principles of analyzing can be applied).

Words contain a mysterious power. Jewish rabbis, as Lawrence Kushner shares, see words as reality.

Words create, characterize, and sustain reality. Primary reality is linguistic. And the biblical word is not only a token of God’s unending covenant love, it is also the ‘real thing’…The Hebrew word dvar means thing as well as word. Through interpreting the words of scripture they, “create themselves over and over again.”

We are re-created through the power of God, through his truth and his Word. Jesus, by the age of 13, was incredibly knowledgeable of the scriptures. He studied them because he had to. If there was one novel in the library that told you exactly who you were and what you were to do in you’re life, wouldn’t you read it until you had it memorized?

As Pastor Kent Anderson realized through the daily study of scripture, “The more I read it the more I am drawn to it. And I discover more about myself in reading the Bible.”

We are called to study and to read as Moreland explains:

“Paul, the devotional master, puts his finger on the very essence of how we grow to become like Jesus: “Do no be conformed to this world,” he tells us, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2 NASB). The term renewing translates the Greek word anakainosis, an its meaning is fairly straightforward: ‘making something new […] study should also be approached as a training activity, as spiritual and intellectual exercises. Study is a discipline that strengthens the mind and enriches the soul. The term mind translates nous, which means “the intellect, reason, the faculty of understanding,” […] Study becomes a means of building my character, ingraining habits of thought and reflection, and reinforcing the life of the mind.

God speaks to us in unusual ways, difficult ways, ways that force to think, that change our perspective, that question the status quo. He speaks to us in intimate ways, silent ways, poetic ways. As Hirsch observes, “Reading poetry is a way of connecting–through the medium of language–more deeply with yourself even as you connect more deeply with another. The poem delivers on our spiritual lives precisely because it simultaneously gives us the gift of intimacy, and interiority, privacy and participation.”

How else would God speak to us but in the most intimate of language to invite us into His love and his story.

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2 thoughts on “Why Christians Must Read Poetry — Part I

  1. I so appreciate your writing this. Words . . . Language . . . Poetry . . . a map to a better world.

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