I just came back from the NEXT Church conference, a gathering of church leaders, including elders, pastors, seminarians, educators, youth leaders and church members who are exploring a more relational, diverse, and collaborative way of being the church in the 21st century. The Rev. Jennifer Hope Kottler and I attended, explored the town, took a yoga class, connected with friends and colleagues, and got to hear great speakers, and attend workshops. And oh, yes, we presented a number of times during the plenary and gave a workshop as well. (You can watch us on the Hudson River or NEXT Church website.)
One of the workshops I attended was called “Verse and Vision, Poetry, Liturgy and Spiritual Formation,” by Nancy Arbuthnot and Gerry Hendershot, both poets and educators. In the workshop we learned about resources for worship and education, and did a writing exercise. There were a number of pastor/poets in the room, already well versed, so to speak, in this art, but I didn’t feel myself to be one of them. I was a little intimidated.
My poetry, in a word, is not good. See? That’s three words. But. This week in the Spiritualty and Practice groups in Bedford we tried the exercise out anyway. And, to our surprise, we found out something. We are ALL POETS. Two different times, two different groups of people, different times of the day, different Bible verses. Together, doing our own work, we were able to come up with something beautiful; each of us, different, diverse and unique.
The process was simple: we read aloud some Bible verses, seeing which one drew us. From there, we each picked one and picked out a phrase and put it at the top of a blank page. Next, we took a word from that phrase and put it in the middle of the page. From there, we wrote words around that word, reacting to it, defining it, and drawing lines from it to the central word, like spokes on a wheel. Next, we took another piece of paper, and “free wrote” for five minutes, timed. At the end of that, we paused, set the timer again, this time for seven minutes, and from all of our material, the words, the phrases, the free writing, we each crafted a poem.
Here’s my verse and poem. Isaiah 54:2, Enlarge the site of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes.
“Do Not Hold Back”
Go, if you want to
And you want to
You have got this;
And it comes, is coming
Oh, the places you’ll go.
Stretch, if you want to
And you want to
Life is a big damn tent
With no sides
And plenty of room.
Stake everything on this
God’s strength is your joy
God’s joy is your strength
Home is there
Grace is now
You couldn’t hold back if you wanted to.
See? I am not a poet. And yet there it was. And it was there for everyone- if fact we are sharing our beautiful words with each other still. So I think, is the church needfully worried about its future and livelihood? Or does the Word continue to nourish us still, if we in our diverse, collaborative and relational way sit down together and experiment a bit?
If you’re afraid, set a timer. You can do anything for five minutes, even scary things. You are a POET. Congratulations. And as my grandfather used to say, “you’re a poet, and don’t know it, but your feet show it—they’re Longfellow’s.
Leslie Mott ministers in the area of clergy care and nurture and is Spiritual Director and Yoga teacher.