Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
In a “Christianity and Literature: Truth and Story” class I’m taking at a local college, the focus the other night was poetry. One-third of the Old Testament is in that genre, said our instructor, who is a local pastor and the educator and was in charge of this first class of the college’s winter term “community outreach series”.
The professor gave several examples from the prophetic and poetic books of the Old Testament as well as from a few of the New Testament parables as illustrations of the techniques of parallelism, inference, and figurative language used in poetry that help us better comprehend God’s nature and the redemptive plan.
But my mind went to a different sort of poetry, that which is not writ in word but in living, breathing life; that which illustrates God by way of His creation, “poetry in motion,” to cite the idiom.
This kind of poetry appeals to our senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, and reveals our Creator in another dimension, in His pleasure in His creation and thereby, in my thinking, draws us ever closer to Him by the “riches of (such beautiful, generous) kindness”.
Such riches are really unnecessary in the pragmatic sense, of course, if you think about it, but there they are anyway, by their appeal, stopping us right in our tracks (or spurring us on to exploits), maybe even in awe, and just maybe also leading us to yield a little more to Him, Gift-Giver of gift-givers, Lover of lovers…
Certainly the narratives, histories, science, and dissertations also included in the anthology of spiritual history called the Bible draw us to Him via reason, which is perfectly adequate, but God’s pleasure in (living) poetry, in its inception, blossoming, and fruition, draws us to Him as well.
For “(His creation) is good,” He said, and we know this, too. And it’s another way that prompts us to think, perhaps reflect a little, maybe draw closer to Him…
The Poetry of the Cherry Tree
The first example I remembered during class and after had to do with a blossoming cherry tree I came across on a walk some years ago, a “poem” of nature, profuse and fragrant, crowded with delicate pink blossoms–by which it drew me in for a few moments of serendipitous revelation and thanksgiving that soft spring morning.
I wrote about it here in the context of the nature of love, both mankind’s and God’s.
I write about it now in the context of poetry in pink, verses in scent, that infer not only the love but also the generosity of a Creator who bequeathed us not only this living “flower poem” but also the senses by which to experience it.
I mean, after all, He could have made only one kind of tree and one kind of blossom and one manner of preaching based on one genre of communication.
Know what I mean?
But He didn’t.
He speaks to us in many ways and in many places and, I would add, in some very breathtaking forms.
The Poetry of the Run
The other such living poem, this one really “in motion” has to do with 1924 Olympic gold-medalist (100 meter run) and missionary, Eric Liddell, nick-named the “Flying Scotsman”. In his own words about his passion for running as well as his passion for missionary work, he famously stated, ” “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast!
And when I run I feel his pleasure.”
This illustration speaks to me of God’s two-for-one deal, you might put it.
As we pursue His purposes for us, that which we are perhaps genetically gifted such as in sports or music, teaching or whatever is our bent and passion, it is also by those pursuits we can also experience–and reveal–God’s pleasure and thereby, like the draw of an Olympian’s exploits (and fragrant cherry trees in bloom) attract others to the Gospel not only in word but also in sight, sound, smell, taste, and/or touch.
The Jesus Poem
There is, of course, another kind of pleasure and another kind of poem.
This would be pleasure that is delayed for the joy later on, and a poem that is in medias res, another literary term that means “in the middle of,” that is to say, a poem during its crafting, a stage that is not always as attractive.
It took that blossoming cherry tree I happened upon, several years from seed to sapling to flowering branches to achieve the joy and revelation of aspects of God I gleaned that morning, and continue to glean today.
It took Liddell years of training, sweat, dedication, and education to not only win the gold but also to win thousands of minds and hearts to Christ later on on the mission field.
And to the “Jesus Poem,” if you will, it was “for the joy (also) set before (Christ) He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2, NIV), which is the living, breathing, suffering, and dying message of God’s love writ for our salvation, that day, on that cross.
But not only for His joy, later on, but ours, as well, when we, by faith, receive that substitutionary sacrifice He made in our stead. In other words, Jesus did the hardest “crafting” of that joy–and our salvation–Himself, that dread day, at the apex of history…
And there is still plenty of the other kind of immediate joy blossoming–and inspiring–all around us, too.
May I invite you today, as the lyricist put it, to “Taste and see (hear, smell, and touch) that the LORD is good,” for “blessed is the one who takes refuge (puts faith) in Him” (Psalm 34:8).
Thank you for that insight into Biblical poetry. Yes, God’s poetry is alive to us today, timeless spiritual inspiration for us all. My blog has Old Testament readings for morning prayer this week (Baptism of Christ week). Incidentally, Liddell’s ‘Disciplines of the Christian Life’ (SPCK, 2009 ) is a classic, a guide to discipleship outlining a pattern of living for all Christians.
Another metaphor, the core literary technique of poetry, that draws me closer to God in awe and thanksgiving is this one (Luke 19:39-40): “But some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!” 40“I tell you,” He answered, “if they remain silent, the very stones will cry out.”
To me it illustrates the fact that everything, down to the least important bits of creation, like, well, humble rocks, testifies of their/our Creator. (But don’t get me wrong, “humble rocks” are some of the best “silent witnesses” of the truth of creation, embedded as many are, with the artifacts, aka layers of fossilized sedimentation, of real geologic history. I have a lot of respect for rocks :)).
For one more favorite metaphor in this context: there are some physicists who conjecture that we are really living in a computer simulation, believers among them alleging a kind of “Divine Matrix.” I don’t know about that, although it’s an intriguing concept, but what I do know is that virtually every corner of life including at the quantum level breathes of some kind of genesis, origin, “program,” if you will, requiring…a Programmer. I’ll go with God on that.
Blessings and cheers,
Thank you, Colin, for replying, and I responded with, get this, even MORE metaphors…I can get on a roll with this stuff. I’m so glad God has crafted a physical universe with evidence pointing to Him every where we look, if we choose eyes to see. Cheers,Phyllis