The Poetics of Faith

If you never read The Cloister Walk by the poet Kathleen Norris, I highly recommend it. I’ve read it at least three times and eachtime I do so I “re-see” what I thought was old.

And as a ‘poet’ (I use that word as someone who writes and loves poetry, not one who is good at it), I find both her use of words and deep understanding of them suits my own understanding and feeds me. We both believe that words are indispensable and simultaneously superfluous…words are needed and yet unnecessary.And this leads me to sense and feel that poetry is much like the Journey of Faith…the poetics of faith.

In using the word “Faith” here I am using it to signify “a confidence or trust in a Being, person, or thing and as a “belief that is not based on visible or tangible proof.” For myself, I speak as someone with a deep and profound faith in God and in following Jesus.It is interesting to note that root of the word Faith comes from the word meaning “to trust” – fides/fidere from which we get fidelis.

Faith involves building and nurturing deep and (ever deepening) trust with someone – Some One.Norris reminds me again and again that faith is a kindred soul to poetry, in that “poetry is expressed through that which is lived, breathed, uttered, and left silent (62).”

For her, as well as for me, faith is like poetry because the Process is as important (if not more so) as the Product.  Because in faith, as in poetry, when humans are involved the Product is always somewhat flawed through its finiteness. The so-called goal is not the end, but the Journey is. And if the process is “the point,” then the journey will be a great deal messier than we could imagine.

In poetry, as in the journey of faith and life: we must “pay attention” – for it is this clarity of attention that allows for imagination and creativity to have full range and a deep and freeing life, for the poet, the readers, and so to for the people of faith.In poetry as in faith, revision is as much a part of the Journey as the first thought or draft, and in this revising process the poem (and the process) can make a mess of the original.

Seeing things in a different perspective, seeing things new for the first time, starting over, redefining: these are the tools with which we grow in faith and in life.The same is true of faith; and in learning to discover a living faith – one that is real, authentic, embodied, and active, we sometimes have to make a stinkin’ mess of the whole process. And then surrender all of it to God and learn to let go in order to get going.

Expecting to live a life of faith that is free from error, doubt, darkness, mistakes, or forgetting is about as realistic and downright silly as telling a child to go have fun on a muddy playground and not get dirty. It is impossible.

Norris says “when it comes to faith, while there are guidelines…there is no one right way to do it (63).” Although every religious expression has a dogmatic element to it; overall, faith (not religion) by its very definition is a process of learning and unlearning, doubting and believing, moving forward and moving backward…and all this journey is done in and with God, not apart.

Faith, like poetry, is a motion and a movement. It is a journeying motion like the ebb and flow of the waves and tides – always there, but always coming and going, arriving and leaving. Faith is rarely “perfect” but it so sacredly poetic, holding a vast richness whereupon we can draw for courage, inspiration, motivation, and comfort.

I daily seek to “write” my faith out in the pages of my life, fleshing out in living words the hope that I have in God, writing it out like my poetry: revising, crossing out, erasing, re-writing, and editing.

Our faith, like poetry and all art, is a Journey of Revisioning: seeing what seems old with new eyes given by the Spirit empowering us to (like T.S. Eliot said), see it again for the first time.

Flannery O’Connor, one of THE saltiest saints to live, once said that most people who come to (any) Faith, do so by means that most religions would not allow, or at best frown upon. And so I sense it may be that way with all of us.

Fumbling into Grace & Bleeding Daylight all over the place…

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