I had no clue how to categorize my blog when I first joined The High Calling network. L.L. Barkat was the managing editor back then, and she channeled me into Culture. Culture? Are you kidding? Really? I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know how much that one small act encouraged me. Then I lived with God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us for nine months (I never thought about that as a pregnancy before), and it changed my life. She has been a Barnabas to me, and I’m thrilled to welcome her into this space with an excerpt from that book.
“Listening is the path to intimacy,” says poet John Fox . . .
To become better poet-listeners, Fox suggests that we quiet ourselves for a good ten minutes and practice listening to the world around us. With the openness of a contemplative, we’re to make note of movement sounds, voice sounds, doors shutting, dogs barking. Then he suggests we focus on one or two of the sounds that most intrigue us. Feel them, he instructs. Note where you feel them in your body.
Such exercise in listening produces surprising intimacy. Like the day I decided to listen to a Coke bottle. I’m kind of a health nut; I can’t remember the last time I took a swig of soda. But I listened anyway and this is the poem I found when I quieted myself.
I am fizzle
slide your hand
past my red belt
take me by the
set teeth on edge
flick fluted tin
We can question the value of bonding with a Coke bottle by listening to it, then writing down what we hear. But I like to remember Ruth Haley Barton’s observation that we bring the same patterns of intimacy to our relationship with God that we have with people (and, I would add, with the created and invented world around us). In other words, if I can’t bond with a Coke bottle for ten minutes, or imagine what it is like to be a Coke drinker, I’m less likely to be able to bond with an invisible God. The interesting thing about the soda poem is that it led one commenter (I posted the poem on my blog) to suddenly desire a Coke; it urged another commenter to admit a questionable habit (his value judgement, not mine) of opening bottle tops with his teeth. This is how it works when we get intimate; a process of identification and sharing is initiated.
King David, great poet of the bible, was a pretty good listener. He listened to sky, wind, deer, cattle, mountains, valleys, cedars and goats. In their rising, panting, going in and coming out, he heard echoes of the Divine, and responded, “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” This led him to uninhibited praise: “I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being” (Ps. 104:24, 33).
Writing poetry can lead us to intimacy and praise; it can also help us begin to listen to ourselves. It’s a kind of active silence well-suited to the extrovert, wherein we welcome flapping sounds from the burden on our backs and express them in the space of a poem. The confines of limited space ask us to first listen hard, so we can later capture and powerfully communicate elusive truth. As Fox notes, the point is not to become a world-famous poet (a daunting goal indeed) but rather to provide “a home for your bewilderment. A healing place for your anger… the space [you] need to breathe and wander, laugh and wail.”
Is this why the Psalms have been one of the most enduring and inviting parts of the bible? What David pulled from the depths of his soul on silent nights, are poetic truths so raw, ebullient, furious, and sorrowful, that we can taste the truth of his experience. His words help us become intimate with ourselves, others and God by providing a home for our confusion, a healing place for our disillusionment, a place to breathe. In the end, I can think of no better way to express what poetry, including David’s poetry, does for us than to share these words from poet Laure Krueger. In an intimate act of listening to my words of disillusionment in an online post, she juggled and reformed them into this…
I find myself thirsty
for plain sounds that whisper,
sure words resonate
where i can hear, once again
through broken lines
that murmur with tenderness. but
at the heart of poetry, silences.
I’m not offering an “Arnoldian notion of poetry replacing religion,” but rather a recognition that God murmurs in the silence of unexpected places. Poetry can be one of those places.
A statement for you to complete in the comments: “If I close my eyes and listen right now, I hear…”
Post excerpted from “Poetry: silence,” God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us, by L.L. Barkat and used with permission.
L.L. Barkat is the author of six books, including the new collection Love, Etc: Poems on Love, Laughter, Longing & Loss; an experimental fiction and poetry title, The Novelist: A Novella, and Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing (twice named a Best Book of 2011). She has appeared at Best American Poetry, VQR, NPR, Every Day Poems, and Scratch Magazine. Staff Writer for The Curator and Managing Editor of Tweetspeak Poetry, Barkat can be found at llbarkat.com.