Gregory of Nazianzus, a Church Father considered one of our finest theologians attempting to speak intelligibly of the Trinity, could only, in the end, turn to poetry in his attempts to say something (something short of heresy but something more than drivel) about this confounding mystery. Church folk and lovers (two words which should be bosom buddies) often make their way to poets and verse whenever the thing we have to say simply cannot be said in the language we’ve been given.
I wrote my wife Miska a poem one Christmas. It wasn’t high art, just tender scribbles on a page. Thank God for free verse, as my iambic pentameter goes every kind of caddywompus. Still, somehow in those simple lines I was free to say things I didn’t know how to say, free to discover truths in the writing that I didn’t yet know I knew. The form insisted that I not worry so much about explaining my love; but to simply love, to let the love seep from my heart onto the page. I don’t know how it happens. I only know it does.
Since music is poetry in motion, all of this fits (I think) with how one of my friends, Eastern Orthodox professor Vigen Guroian, talks about theology. “It has to be sung,” he says. “If you can’t sing it, it can’t be good theology.” There’s more (much more) to faith than airtight theological constructs. Good words about God, ones that catch your breath short or make your knees buckle or turn your heart and your mind to fire, have to be set free – they have to set you free. Faith needs to carry a melody, to set down a groove, to bring a little funk.
St. Pophyrios of Kavsokalyvia said, “Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet.” Do not take St. Pophyrios too literally. He does not insist everyone must learn poetic craft. He’s reminding us that we must allow our soul to be moved into places deeper than bare fact. We must allow the Spirit to bring us embers, and then wait for the Spirit to blow on the embers until they sizzle and flare.
It is not sufficient to accumulate the facts. Someone’s got to sing us a song. Someone’s got to let the poetry loose. Someone’s got to bring the funk.
5 Replies to “Faith, Poetry and Funk”
Maybe that adds to what God means that He sings over us… that He loves us deeper than bare fact, in ways we don’t know yet that He knows? Thank you for these thoughts.
maybe it does, Misha. That works for me.
Winn, you always make the faith of my feet lighter. Thank you. Music has been a close friend of mine since the days it was unacceptable in my childhood home. God speaks to me through all kinds of songs, and He shows me it’s okay to dance, too. First with Him, then with others.
‘making your faith lighter’ – thank you, I hope that’s always true.
Thank you for these wonderful words!! So often when I searched for the meaning of Jesus’ words.. especially those parables, his heart in the Old Testament, I will just throw up my hands, realize that although I see in a mirror dimly, he doesn’t and be in awe that he knows me in the first place. It is always sweet relief to put on some music(headset turned up to loud) and sing or hum back my love for him and be lifted to a place where we meet and oh my goodness it’s a holy ground! I’d say through out this life I have felt his spirit draw closer to me more through music than any theology.