Poetry-Making with Scripture

Screen Shot 2016-10-15 at 9.10.12 AMBy John Frye

The theologian’s best ally is the artist. …We must see the imagination as an aspect of ministry. What we’re really talking about is creativity. We’re participating in something that God is doing. He is creating new life. He created life and he’s been creating life. How does the creative process work? The people who attend to that question most frequently are writers, artists, sculptors, musicians. …I think if I were going to set up a seminary curriculum, I would spend a whole year on a couple of poets. I would insist that the students learn how to read poetry, learn how words work” (Eugene H. Peterson in an interview recorded in Subversive Spirituality, 252).

One practice to help the pastor “learn how words work” is to create a poetic reading of a biblical text. Let’s take Isaiah 6:1- 7, that is, Isaiah’s vision of God in the temple. Using my lexical skills in translating the Hebrew text, after comparing various English translations, and reading a few commentaries on the text (John N. Oswalt, “Isaiah” NICOT vol 1, 1986 edition; E. J. Young, NICOT vol 1, 1974 edition; Geoffrey Grogan EBC; and Edouard Kitoko Nsiku, African Bible Commentary), I am set to express the text in an artistic manner.

Imagination and creative word-craft come into play above the textual particularities, competing interpretive options, and pastoral applicational concerns. An artist is not aiming at exegetical accuracy and clarity, but seeking personal involvement with a riveting moment in the life of Isaiah as the text presents. In art some ambiguity seeps in. Hopefully the poem sparks a “ponder this” moment for the reader.

Finishing Touchesm by John W. Frye

I stand,
faintly sensing your glory,
straining to see, silent to hear
all who surround your throne.

Creatures fly and voices cry:
“Holy! Holy! Mysterious Other!
“Power of all Powers– Lamb of God!”

I should die before you,
but breathlessly I stand— still.
—What?
I see you move.
You rise up, O Lord.
I, not dead, fall trembling,
frighteningly dirty.
You, drawing close, reveal the deeper death.

You bend over me. So near, breathing,
You kneel to probe my wounds.
Wounds– fatal, festered,
the finishing touches of selected sins.

Tremors of power, pure and gentle,

pulsate, cleanse, hurt and heal.
You weep. I cry out—
Stunned, sobs releasing fearful joy.

I stand
faintly still sensing your glory.
New, alive, in love with you.
Not seeing clearly,
not hearing all,
but knowing you, Wounded One—
My all-surrounding Lord.

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