Monday, December 6, 2010
The Poetry of a Deacon
The email contained an unusual request: could I talk about poetry, and how it might apply to the work at hand?
The work at hand was the work of church deacons. The talk was to be at a meeting of our Deacon Board at church. It would be my last meeting as a deacon: I was stepping down after three years.
And I’d be stepping down with a talk about poetry. And possibly reading a couple of the poems I’d written. Oh, my.
I’d read my poetry to a group exactly once before, at a writer’s workshop at Laity Lodge in Texas. I now faced the prospect of reading poetry to 35 men at church, almost all businessmen except for a couple of pastors and a teacher.
Well, you know who rushes in where angels fear to tread. I worked on some ideas, played with an outline, fleshed it out, and figured out which poems I’d be reading.
The meeting day arrived; it was the Monday before Thanksgiving. I was off from work but had a minor physical at the doctor at 4:30 and dinner with the deacons and elders at 5:30.
I was hoping to be delayed at the doctor’s office.
I was in early and whisked out with plenty of time for the meeting at church.
After dinner, the deacons gathered. We opened in prayer and I did the roll call. We shared prayer requests and did committee reports. Then it was time for my talk.
Here’s what I said.
I came to poetry because most of my career has been in speechwriting. One can learn much about writing a good speech by reading good poetry.
Here’s a poetic fact: more than one third of the Bible is written in verse. It’s almost as if God speaks in poetry.
I started writing poetry a little less than two years ago, mostly as a means to express and explore my faith.
I wrote a poem at a writer’s workshop in Texas, and I read it to our workshop group. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done with writing – to read a poem I wrote to a group of people.
The first poem I read was about a difficult passage in Scripture, difficult for me – the concept of herem, the eradication of the people living in the Promised Land – men, women, children, and usually the animals as well, every living thing. The poem was entitled “As for me and my house,” a poem about commitment and obedience.
I’ve continued to this idea of commitment and obedience in poems, including one I wrote based on a photograph of a homeless person, entitled “You Know Who I Am.”
I said that at our workshop, our leader said something about poetry that has stayed with me. A great poem or even a good one, he said, isn’t ever really done saying what it has to say. It’s always becoming.
Poetry, for me, has become a kind of metaphor for my faith, which really isn’t ever completed.
I read a third poem, entitled “Not questions.”
I’d read only one aloud to people in Texas; here, I read three.
I said poetry is also a kind of metaphor for serving as a deacon, for a deacon’s work is never really done. There are always people needing help. There are always weeds to pull and bushes to trim and walks to edge. There are always people to be greeted at Sunday worship and offering plates to pass and collect, and tables to be set up, and widows and orphans to be cared for.
The work of a deacon is the work of a poem.
The work of a decon is living the life of a poem.
A deacon is a poem.
Photography: Books in Church by Petr Kratchovil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.