The Poetry of Grace

Thirty More Years

When I was a young man,

grown up at last, how large

I seemed to myself! I was a tree,

tall already, and what I had not

yet reached, I would yet grow

to reach. Now, thirty more years

added on, I have reached much

I did not expect, in a direction

unexpected. I am growing downward,

smaller, one among the grasses.[i]

Shifting to the other side is hard. When I read poetry I have to shift to the other side of my brain, the weaker mostly unused side. Therefore I don't read much poetry. So it is unusual for me to say, 'my favorite poet is...' but I do have one, Wendell Berry. 

Of course it also seems foolish for me to be writing about poetry, having my last serious foray into this art in the seventh grade. But some others have tried to educate me along the way. They have pointed out that poetry is an artful communication of life's experiences; the beauty and the tragic. With an economy of words it utilizes three techniques of meter, metaphor, and rhyme to explode images and emotions into my consciousness. They explode much like a fireworks display. The bang and glitter of bright lights flashing for an incredible moment, then it fades away and I rest in the pause of reflection of what just happened.  Poetry does the same; I see it, feel it, and then it slowly fades away. I'm left reflective at how almost perfectly some experience, some truth of life was just described. 

Eugene Peterson says, "Poets are not primarily trying to tell us, or get us, to do something. By attending to words with playful discipline (or disciplined playfulness), they draw us into deeper respect both for words and for the reality they set before us."[ii]Unlike linear and logical processes poetry moves on the page with curves and chaos of punctuation and paraphrase. It is not teaching me as in a classroom. I could state the lesson with a summary statement or tag word, but would then miss the life blood of the truth. Poetry breathes life into concepts.

I think Grace is poetry. Grace is God's presence, empowering, giving me breath, to be what He is calling me to be and do what He is inviting me to do. Grace is so much more than a theological concept. When we experience Grace we have these momentary explosions of Love and Truth that fill us with awe. It leaves us pausing and reflecting, wanting more. 

Just as literary poetry uses the meter, metaphor, and rhyme to make manifest its desire, Grace uses pain, pleasure, and personality to accomplish its desire of transformation. Grace breaths life and meaning into all of our painful broken dreams or unmet expectations. Grace breaths life and meaning into the blessings of life that bring joy so that they don't just rot into narcissism. Grace breaths life and meaning into the nature and nurture of individual personalities so that we can live with hope. Grace using pain, pleasure, and personality allows us to gaze into a mirror dimly and see our transformation into Christlikeness.  

To enjoy the reading of literary poetry I must do one simply thing; open the book. Put myself in a place to read, to recognize, and to receive the gift poetry wants to give me. Reading the poetry of Grace is similar. We simply put ourselves in a position to read, recognize and then receive Grace's gift of transformation. 

Putting ourselves in a position to recognize Grace is what the practice of spiritual disciplines is about. The disciplines don't transform us, Grace does. But when properly understood, the disciplines put us in the place to read, recognize and receive all that Grace wants to give us for our transformation. 

Our next retreat is about looking at the spiritual disciplines which take us beyond the 'roses are red' poetry of Grace. We call it Beyond The Basics.  Click here, Beyond The Basics, to go to the link for all of our retreat offerings in 2015, then click on the one coming March 20-22 and read more about it. 

I write this that it may be a blessing upon you.

Craig Babb

[i] Wendell Berry, Entries (Counterpoint Publishing Co., Washington, D.C., 1997) pg 14

[ii] Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor; Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction(William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI., 1989) pg 155