Last week, my dear friend A., flew from Hilo, Hawai’i to visit me in Steamboat. We snowshoed, cooked, read and wrote poems, danced with the pattern of time alone and time together.
And then she left.
The last night of her stay, I hosted a “Little Poetry Night” with my friends in Steamboat. We shared poems we loved from Emily Dickinson’s “She Sweeps With Many-Colored Brooms” to Jane Kenyon’s “The Shirt“.
A. shared her Spoken Word poems as well. And as she’s won Hawai’iSlam competition more than a few times, we were filled to brim. Here’s one of my favorites, “Colorado Says Its Ready” written before her trip.
A’s visit combined with my husband’s work on spiritual abuse brought together a significant problem and solution. I am indebted to both of them for this connection.
One, the problem of spiritual abuse.
Two, the living solution of poetry.
Like emotional or physical abuse, spiritual abuse, can harm the body and the soul. But fists and words are not the only tools. Spiritual abuse distinguishes itself by using God’s name to do the damage. As Dale writes, it’s the ultimate “taking God’s name in vain.“
The problem is rampant, particularly in formal church gatherings, where often a man need only step behind a pulpit to be taken as God’s messenger. Having preached my first sermon last week I don’t wonder at the temptation: the power is intoxicating.
Spiritual abuse is threatening to take the potency of our local bodies and fold it back on itself. While souls wither, Christians fight internally, sharpening our sticks against our own. Nothing castrates the potency of the body of Christ like spiritual abuse. Spiritual abusers use God and his moral code to whip humans into shape. Spiritual abuse turns the Good Shepherd into the Great Accuser, swapping God’s words with the Enemy’s.
At core, spiritual abuse makes us less human and less like Jesus.
But, one major tool against spiritual abuse (both abusers or abused) is easily overlooked.
Where have all the poets gone?
As Kathleen Norris writes, “No parent really wants his or her child to grow up and become a poet” (The Quotidian Mysteries, 28). When was the last time you saw the writers, the poets, the musicians gathered to the front of the church to enjoy the blessing of the elders laying on of hands and commissioning prayer? Missionaries, pastors, leaders, maybe the worship pastor, but not artists.
Imagine if Katy Perry’s church, Jennifer Lawrence’s church, Brad Pitt’s church had done more than let them sing and act on stage, but had commissioned them, trained them, talked about their gifts, their vocation, their calling? What if we treated artists as if they were training for diplomacy work in Hollywood rather than shady work beyond the church walls? What if our artists are the Daniel’s and Esther’s of today?
Our poets, our singers, our actors are all missionaries as much as those who go to Togo and translate the Scriptures into a new tongue. American artists translate their good news for this generation. And if the church cannot offer any good news to the artists in their congregations, no wonder Jesus is absent at the Grammy’s.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.”
To notice the small things, to write on them, to appreciate them, to see well, is the work of a poet.
Have you noticed how invisible our artists are in our churches? Unless they’re illustrating the sermon, where are they?
Pay attention for a moment to that problem.
As my poet friend, A. explained
Churches don’t value art or poetry as much as we value teaching, preaching or leadership. When it comes to the arts in general, they can be such a powerful means of expressing your soul, of being aware of creation and delighting in its Creator, of addressing the problems locally and worldwide. Poetry can give you the freedom and integrity to express exactly who God has formed you to be.
Of all groups in the world, the capital “C” church needs to get on this. If we can integrate the free-thinking, the free-expressing-nature of the arts into the church, don’t you think that would combat a lot of the shame, the abuse, the congregational and individual issues that go on?
All of a sudden Jesus’ bride would look alive and radiant instead of hollow and bland and shame-ridden. And maybe the Church would have a voice of freedom instead of a voice of oppression.
I believe in poets like A. that her calling matches the calling of my missionary friends in Togo.
This summer, July 24-28, my husband and I will host Soulation’s GREEN Gathering, “Fully Free and Fully Alive after Spiritual Abuse.” Poetry will flank our time together, choice food will bless each day, beautiful vistas will greet us each morning. Maybe you’re hungering for it as much as I am. (Want to come? three spots left).
And in the meantime, consider the poets in our midst. Bless them, for they are, as David the Psalmist, men and women after God’s heart.