poetry as an entryway to prayer: encountering the mysteries of God

Jennifer Camp
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Jennifer Camp, co-founder of  Gather Ministries, and author of  Loop, grew up in the middle of an almond orchard in Northern California and now lives in the busy Bay Area with her husband and three kids. A former high school English teacher, she loves to write, but she especially loves to encourage people to seek and live out the truth of their story, their identity in Christ. You can find her writing at her blog, Jennifer J. Camp .You can connect with Jennifer on both  Facebook  and  Twitter. She would love to have you join her there.

He tells me something hard to hear. But necessary. And true. It feels true–so I don’t cry. And I am not scared. He’s sitting there, one leg crossed over the other, eyes seeing me and looking into a place deeper still. The room, simple and sparsely decorated. Two polyesters covered chairs where we sit, by the window. A glass of water on a small round table near the wall. A desk piled with books. A calendar. A computer monitor. Trusting God to give wisdom, reveal what I am really saying.

We meet for an hour each month. A fifteen-minute bike ride from my house, through the little downtown and up a winding hill too steep for me to bike all the way up; I must dismount my bike and walk. Oaktree leaves and acorns litter the road. October in northern California showing off in its delicious autumn glory: rich orange leaves crunching beneath feet, squirrels scampering over tree limbs, birds singing too high for me to see. 

Two years ago I spent a weekend here for a solitary and silent retreat. Now I come here to sit with Father Chi for spiritual direction. A coming together to seek God, to pursue life’s mysteries I would otherwise not begin to understand. 

And here is where I learn the value of study, of contemplation, of consideration of the deeper meanings for why we think and feel and go through life the way we do. Here is one revelation: We know we are loved. Or we believe we are not. We believe we are broken–and fully whole, through Jesus, in that brokenness. Or we believe we are flawed and unfixable, unreachable, a hopeless case.

I share with Father Chi how poetry, the writing of it in the early mornings, is helping me engage with God. When I write, I surrender my heart and mind to Him, trusting that what words come–what images surface that I want to try to express–reveal hidden places in my heart that would be otherwise undiscoverable, unknown. Writing poetry helps me partner with God in discerning to me my heart.

And it is a heart that is complicated. Still in need of healing. Still in need of grace. Through poetry, lies I believe are revealed–lies I thought I had already fully dealt with and surrendered. Wounds are felt, wounds self-inflicted and wounds inflicted by others. I tell Father Chi how, while the poetry writing is helpful–and interesting–in revealing these deeper places within me that need healing, I feel powerless too. After the words are out on the page, I don’t know what to do with them. I value them for the revelation they bring, but I struggle to engage with the truth they reveal. They are poems I have written but yet don’t fully understand what they are trying to say. 

And this is why poetry writing is just the beginning–the beginning of a journey of looking deeper, with God, at what He is saying to your heart. 

Father Chi looks at me, brown eyes deeply earnest and kind, and tells me the writing of the poetry is just the beginning of a journey with God. It is a step. One step. It isn’t the journey itself. To stop there and think that writing is the connection, the prayer, the engagement with God, is an incomplete exchange. In our poem writing, He is communicating to us deeper truths about our hearts that we can choose to ignore or we can choose to uncover. Letting the words sit there upon the page isn’t going to do any good. It is letting your heart read the words–letting them speak to you, letting God decipher the poem’s meaning for you–that fulfills the exchange. 

“Go deeper–deeper into the mystery of His love. The poems are an entryway to this mystery. Float within these encounters with God. The memories, the experiences you write about are entryways to the more of God’s love He wants to share with you, right now.” 

Father Chi, Jesuit Retreat Center, Los Altos

The poems, I realize, are not for me to figure out. Rather, they are material God wants to use to speak to about my heart, the lies I believe, the wounds that still need healing, the truth of how I see the world, other people, and Him.

For instance, here is a poem I wrote this week:

There is a lot I can tell you about this poem–the memory it represents, the deeper wounding and healing, the shame. 

For me to write this poem I had to stay present. I had to let my heart feel. I had to let my mind connect with my heart. And rather than psychoanalyzing myself and trying to figure out the themes this poem is addressing (although I certainly can–and I have a lot I could say), that is not my point. Writing a poem is only part of the gift God is giving you. It is the wrapping paper on the present. The more significant gift is your connecting with God about what He is showing you–about Him, about yourself, about the potential for wholeness and greater healing.

After writing a poem, look at it; let yourself feel the weight of it; and then give it to God. Here are some questions to ask Him after you write a poem:

  • What do You want me to see?
  • What do You what me to hear?
  • What are You showing me, telling me?
  • In what way are You addressing the needs of my heart?
  • What do You have for me?
  • What healing are You offering me, specifically?
  • What is one step I can take now in response? 

When we sit with God and open our heart to hear Him speak, we might find our minds filled with memories of a past wound–memories of something we did or something that was done to us. Can you imagine trying to express this memory in words? 

But when you sit with Him He might show you an image that is not related to a wound at all. Any moment, any experience, any thought can be the beginning of a conversation–the material of a poem–with Him.

In whatever direction God or Jesus or Holy Spirit guides you (do you know who is speaking to your heart as you listen?) do your best to express it. Write down details of the scene–what you hear and see and tangibly feel. But also show your feelings. This doesn’t have to be overt–try to show it through suggestions and images and clues. What I mean is, you don’t have to write out every detail of the experience. Give a snapshot. But then go deeper. Then deeper still.

And then, when you are done writing, take a look at what you’ve written. Read it aloud to yourself. Let the words pour out over your heart. Are the words true? Can you make them truer? When you read the words you’ve written, are you able to be present to your emotions in the scene?

Finally, take these words to the Father. Let your poem be the entryway for your prayer, an entryway to engaging with God. He has much to say to our hearts. Let’s listen. Let’s pause. Let’s write. Let’s ask Him what it all means and what He has for us to do next. 

So, this week, in the comments here, and/or in the private Loop Poetry Project Facebook group, share your poem that is written after you sit, for at least a few minutes, in the presence of God. And then, use this poem as your prayer. What is He saying? What more does He have for you, His beloved, right now?

Consider the poem, “When I Met Her,” that I shared with you here. When I let that be the beginning of a conversation with Him, I give Him access to my heart. In return, I receive wholeness. I receive love. I receive Him.

Remember the encouragement of Father Chi: Let our poems be the entryway for our prayers. There is much to experience as we encounter the mystery of God. Can you imagine your own poetry as the entryway to experiencing it? Tell me. I can’t wait to hear.

This post appeared originally at jenniferjcamp.com

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About Jennifer Camp

Jennifer Camp, co-founder of  Gather Ministries, and author of  Loop, grew up in the middle of an almond orchard in Northern California and now lives in the busy Bay Area with her husband and three kids. A former high school English teacher, she loves to write, but she especially loves to encourage people to seek and live out the truth of their story, their identity in Christ. You can find her writing at her blog, Jennifer J. Camp .You can connect with Jennifer on both  Facebook  and  Twitter. She would love to have you join her there.