“Poetry is not the language of objective explanation but the language of imagination. It makes an image of reality in such a way as to invite our participation in it. We do not have more information after we read a poem, we have more experience” (Eugene H. Peterson, Subversive Spirituality, 125, discussing the Apostle John as pastor and poet). Peterson continues, “St. John is a poet, not using words to tell us about God, but to intensify our relationship with God. He is not trying to get us to think more accurately or to train us into better behavior, but to get us to believe more recklessly, behave more playfully—the faith-recklessness and hope-playfulness of children entering into the kingdom of God” (126).
While pastors need scholars, the church needs poets. Yes, I know we have scholar-pastors and I think Scot McKnight is one. In these desperate, polarized times the church needs an army of pastors like Anglican pastor George Herbert (1593-1633). The church must imagine its future without a codependency on power, particularly political power. George Herbert, a contemporary of Shakespeare and who served in Parliament, was a “devotional lyricist” who left politics to serve as rector of the little parish of St. Andrews Church, Lower Bemerton, Salisbury. His pastoral prose was titled A Priest to the Temple, or the Country Parson published 19 years after his death.
Let’s consider two poems. One from an amateur (that would be me) and then the other, perhaps George Herbert’s most well-known poem—Love III. Each reflects a ministry ethos.
John W. Frye
“Let us break bread together,” they said.
I ate their broken promises instead.
Their bread of life sticks in my throat.
Will I choke to death on this liars’ loaf?
“Let us take the cup together, “they said.
I drink their frivolous spirits instead,
As they blow bubbles into the sacred flow
Like children not knowing what they do.
Can unbroken lives eat broken bread?
At His table the Broken Host serves…
There is healing— life in His bread.
Hands tremble as He gives me the cup,
Feeling already the rough nails of love.
Can uncrushed lives not despise?
Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.
‘A guest,’ I answered, ‘worthy to be here.’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.’
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’
‘Truth Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat:’
So I did sit and eat.