Exploring Poetry and the Psalms


As we continue to explore the difficulty and longing to feel this Advent, I recognize that one of difficulties that I have in feeling is giving myself permission to have certain feelings. What place should doubt, anger, sadness, and fear have in my life as a Christian? What place can joy, hope, and love have in a world filled with darkness and hate?


Fortunately, the Psalms contain the full range of human emotions and teach us to bring them prayerfully before God. As I pray the Psalms in the Daily Office, I learn to give myself permission to bring before God what He already knows about me. I also learn to name my own emotions and experiences in the way of the poetry of the psalms. Their form and style is simple and adaptable enough for me to grasp. Psalms and other Hebrew poetry are generally written in parallel statements, usually doublets but occasionally triplets. While this type of poetry does not follow metrical rules or rhyming patterns, these parallel statements form what may be considered thought rhymes. The first line proposes a thought or image and the second line either builds, contrasts, or synthesizes the idea or image. For me, it is in writing this second line that I can explore and experience the emotion without having to explain or rationalize.


Let's look at an example from the Psalms and an example from my own writing. 


The first 5 verses of Psalm 25 provide an example of each of these ways of parallel structure as David writes:


To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in You I trust,

(Building through repetition)

Do not let me be ashamed; Do not let my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none of those who wait for You will be ashamed; Those who deal treacherously without cause will be ashamed.

(Contrast)

Make me know Your ways, O Lord; Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; For You I wait all the day.

(Synthesis)


As an example of writing in this way, as I consider today, I feel a hope and lightness that has been absent the past few weeks. So I might write,


Hope shines bright today

   Chasing the darkness 

As the dawn breaks in the east

   Banishing the night

I looked to the world

   And found despair

Shimmering images

   A vain mist

You reached out for me

   Across a great chasm

Your Love held me

   Your breath gave me life

My eyes are fixed on you, O Lord

   My ears strain for your Word

My heart is lifted up to you

   Heal me once more

   O God of my salvation.


When I write in this way, it is not usually with the intent of sharing. Many of the images and thoughts require more explanation than a “good poem” permits. These expressions are simply for me. They often reveal other hurts and wounds that extend beyond the current situation and provide opportunities for prayer and healing. In this type of poetry, either read in the Psalms or written, I find a beautiful invitation to prayerfully bring feelings and experience into the presence of God (i.e. contemplation) and respond in creativity that leads back into contemplation and experience.


How is God inviting you to notice, reflect, and create in poetry or other ways?

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