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Poetry of Religion

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- Last week I gave an invocation at a base holiday party that prompted the following question from an Airman: "Did you have to study poetry in any of your seminary or chaplain training programs?" He said he felt there was a poetic dimension to the invocation and wondered whether it was due to some formal training, or simply a personal interest on my part.

After thanking him, I told him I put a lot of time, effort, reflection and prayer into my invocations, and sometimes I get lucky! After we said good-bye and went our separate ways, his question stayed with me. The more I thought about it, the more I realized, whether he knew it or not, he truly tapped into something very profound about the nature and experience of a religious life.

The essence of the Airman's question--albeit with a little poetic license and a twist-was, does one have to study or understand poetry to be religious? The immediate answer is obviously no, but speaking more broadly, religion, properly studied, properly understood, and most importantly, properly done, is poetry.

Religion is the poetic practice and experience of the soul in all its grandeur--both our own soul and the soul of the universe-God. Religion allows the finite aspects of our being to transcend itself and connect with the infinite-God.

But in order for the infinite to be intelligible to our finite minds, it must be practical-something to aid us and enable us to reach out and touch more intimately with the infinite, with God. This is where poetry plays a role in religion.

Most of the founders and leaders of the world's great religions were not well-versed in the technicalities of poetry, such as proper verse, meter, rhyme, parallelism, etc. and they did not have to be. They were not called to be literary poets; they were called to be poets of the soul. Their writings arwe can practice. Then, once grasped and internalized, it can be used as a spiritual springboard e a poetic call to our soul. It is not religious poetry that they write about; it is about the poetry of being religious.

So I say, thank you Airman X, for your question, even if this was not your actual question, because it gave me an opportunity to again reflect on the beauty and poetry of a religious life.

I pray that during this season of light we all learn to see with poetic eyes and hear with poetic ears so that the blessing of holiness dwells deeply within us.