Poetry for Praise, Worship, Devotion, Opening our Hearts to God
In our experience of God’s presence, poetry can help us focus and engage our senses and entire being. Poetry can help us process life and emotions—and see ourselves—in new ways, and thus be open to hearing God say fresh, new things to us. Scripture does this also, of course. And much of the Bible was written as poetry. I have long found soul nourishment and renewed perspective in the Psalms. And how can a person read Song of Solomon and not believe God woos and reaches us through the five senses he has given us? Isaiah, the prophet, wrote often in poetry. Sometimes poetic expression reaches straight to the heart more effectively than prose.
I believe God still speaks through poets today. Sometimes with a prophetic voice. Sometimes imparting wisdom. Sometimes bringing clarity. Sometimes lifting the soul to hope and love.
Even if you think you aren’t “into” poetry, you probably are more than you realize. Songs lyrics are a type of poetry. Along with the music, songs can pierce or soothe our hearts as well as our minds.
I encourage you to include poetry in your devotional reading, meditative prayer, quiet times, and soul care. Here are some poetry collections in which readers are finding poems that help them focus on God’s presence and love:
“I read a couple of your poems each morning.” ~Alice Scott-Ferguson, poet, author, reader
“Luminous, Christian spiritual walk poetry that blends the daily journey with God and the beauty and glory of God’s created world.So many of the poems provided moments of prayer for me. You’ll share time with God and His creation as you recall and navigate through life’s journey with the author as your guide.” ~Jimmie Kepler, reader and reviewer
“In our own seasons of suffering, words to explain the pain, to cry out to God, or to get a grip on our faith…”–Elaine Wright Colvin, WIN
“[These] poems individually and collectively pour out love for who God is.” –Glynn Young, blogger/reviewer
“I am reading them along with my daily Scripture and other devotional readings.” ~Bev Coons, reader
“This book is salve for the soul. It provides a place for you to gather the stray bits of experience and gently mend your wounds.” –Isaac, online reader/reviewer
“To read this book is to … open one’s own heart in unexpected ways.” –Susan Elaine Jenkins, reader/reviewer
This post was first written in Jan. 2018, and updated Jan. 2019, again updated Feb. 2020.
Over a month into 2020 we’ve had some surprises as well as some planned happenings. In this post I’ll share with you some of the surprises. One of our authors has garnered increased media attention lately:
This memoir by now-retired South African ambassador and brigadier general tells the dramatic hostage story that occurred in Taiwan. A few years after the book was released, National Geographic TV broadcast a docudrama of this amazing story and testimony of the Alexander’s, which was re-enacted by a British production company. Now the “Locked-up Abroad” episodes, including this one (Season 1, Ep. 10: “Taiwan”), have become available on Amazon video. Viewers of the docudrama sometimes search for more about the story and land on Alexander’s Wikipedia page, which leads to info about Hostage In Taipei, which may lead to the interested party purchasing the paperback or ebook. One such viewer / searcher / reader was a Christian media person, who then invited McGill Alexander as a guest on his podcast. Find it in audio or video here:
Doug TenNapel and Ethan Nicolle welcome special guest McGill Alexander from South Africa, who was in an intense hostage situation many years ago while living in Taiwan. A notorious murderer and rapist held his family hostage for 26 hours, shooting McGill and his daughter – both survived. McGill and his wife later brought a Bible to the man who held them hostage and led him to Christ, forgiving him for what he put them through. This interview is all about that act – loving those who are your enemies, praying for those who persecute you. Why are we called to do it and what does it mean?
(In the 40-minute interview, McGill tells the story with such passion and freshness, you’d think it happened yesterday.)
You may know the Babylon Bee as a Christian / Political satire site. There are good vibes but no satire this time, as the story is deadly serious, has eternal ramifications, and has provided challenging, inspiring testimony to the world. In their interview, Kyle Mann and Ethan Nicolle covered these topics and more:
McGill’s story : How this hostage event happened and who the criminal was
McGill’s Christian faith
How did McGill get through this horrible event?
Forgiveness- what is it and what does it look like?
How long did it take to forgive, was this a process, and what was going through his mind as all this was happening?
Is forgiveness completely unconditional?
Does forgiveness condone the evil?
We live in a “show no mercy” culture nowadays, especially on social media. How does forgiveness shape how we approach this culture?
We at Cladach appreciate the length of these podcasts and the time they gave McGill to tell his story, as well as the excellent questions and subjects covered in the discussions. (Thank you, Ethan.) We are also pleased at the increase in sales we have noticed as a result of these media opportunities. And we are even more pleased that the Alexander’s story is reaching ever-widening audiences.
In another part of the world, McGill Alexander was invited to Indonesia by CNA, an English-language Asian news network, to appear in an episode of The Negotiators to tell his hostage-crisis story, which was also reenacted. The 47-minute episode can be viewed at:
The Negotiators: Ep 2: Taipei Hostage Crisis(Updated: ) Taiwan’s most-wanted criminal holds a South African diplomat’s family hostage at gunpoint. Negotiators find themselves trying to do their work in the midst of a frantic media circus.
Even though McGill was ill while in Indonesia for this filming, he did a great job.
I thank God for continuing to open doors for this story and testimony to be told through both Christian and secular media.
“Which do you like most? The mountains or the ocean?” My sister and I would ask each other.
I could never decide. In California for much of my life, I didn’t have to choose. We had both within close distance. I could look up and see the steadfastness of the Sierras or the Coastal Range with their redwoods, pines, deer, bears, raccoons, waterfalls and trout streams that fed the valleys. I could often feel the ocean breezes and smell the salt air from tides so full of power yet knowing their limits, from waves that lapped like earth’s heartbeat.
The metaphors we claim as our own come to us from our surroundings like a fawn stepping out of the forest or beach glass glistening in the sand.
“Which season do you like best?” was another question my sister and I would discuss. Winter offered Christmas. Summer offered school-less, barefoot days, swimming and camping. Spring meant orchards in bloom, Easter, newness.
When I returned with my husband in midlife to my native state of Colorado, I found that daily life was even more determined by the seasons here, especially winter and summer. I found that Spring near the Rockies is a matter of winter and summer fighting it out until summer wins a precarious victory.
But fall remains my favorite season, a time of the year that most inspires me to write poems. As I prepare this collection, I find myself in the Autumn of my life. Christmas doesn’t bring quite the same delight and anticipation except as our grown children and our six grandchildren share the celebrations with my husband and me. Summer I love in this high country, where wildflowers bloom from spring to early fall, the scent of summer rains on prairie grasses imparts indescribable sweetness, and sunsets paint glorious colors across the wide sky.
But fall … During this season of life colors have muted a little, most storms have settled, and anticipation of change keeps one mindful that each era of life comes—and then passes. We must gather the harvest, the fruit, the beauty—as I do from my garden—and preserve it, distill it, package it to sustain us in the winter and to share with others.
When we lived near the Pacific Coast of Northern California, we enjoyed hunting for agates on the beach any time of year. Sometimes as a wave receded, we’d see the semi-precious stones tumbling in the gravelly sand. This process had polished them to translucence, often revealing mossy patterns inside, each unique and formed by the accumulated years. Other types of agates are found in the mountains and on the plains. Each of these gems uniquely encapsulates the effects of pressures and changes in the formation of our earth home. Yet, looking deep within each agate elicits a certainty that these natural processes were guided by a beautiful, loving, almighty Creator.
I think poems are like agates.
This week I had a conversation with my sister, who has also written verse. “Where does a poem come from?” we wondered aloud. Sometimes it seems to rise up from some secret place deep within. Other times a poem—or the inspiration for one—seems to come from without. Our grandfather used to say with a twinkle in his eye that he wrote poems when the “muse sat on his shoulder.” To me it seems as if help comes surely, perhaps from a literary angel. In his poem, “The Country of Déjà Vu,” Wendell Berry asserts that his poems “came through the air, I wrote them down, and sent them on” like migrating birds stopping at his feeder. Perhaps that is as good an explanation as any.
I still marvel at an experience I had in my young adult years. At home with two toddlers, my husband busy with his career, I was emotionally bound up by griefs and losses, especially the death of my mother. I hadn’t written a poem for a long time. One evening I went by myself to a poetry reading at a religious retreat center near our home. I knew no one there. The woman poet read with warmth from verses full of life and light and love. I didn’t go expecting this to happen; but, somehow, soaking in the spoken rhyme, rhythm, and sense, awakened the gift in me. For months after that evening, poems began freely coming to mind. The opening of this fountain provided one part of the healing the Lord began working in and through me, which continues today.
Admittedly, I am not a disciplined poet. I can compose meter and rhyme on demand; but mostly I wait for that elusive and mysterious inspiration. The important thing is to capture on paper the phrases, images, and insights as they come; to sit with them, savor them, polish them like agates; and if they pass the test of holding together and ringing true, to share them.
I won’t limit each poem’s meaning by trying to explain the emotions and experiences that, for me, are encapsulated in each one. As I send them out, they are free to take on new meanings as each reader looks into them. Perhaps for you a poem will speak to a quandary, a sorrow, or a joy you are experiencing at this season of your life. That is the beauty of sharing a gift of poetry.
Before choosing to buy or read a book, don’t you check to see who has endorsed it, what reviewers are saying, which of your friends recommend it? When we tell you that a well-known, trusted leader or author has endorsed a book, we’re not just “name dropping.”
We appreciate every single person, famous or not, who posts a review of one of our titles, shares an update from one of our authors, and recommends a Cladach book to their friends and followers. Word of mouth is the most effective way of “getting the buzz going.” And buzz gets people’s attention.
And these hope-filled books are worth their attention.
Endorsements also add context to a lesser-known author and their books.
These people, whose names are recognizable to a large number of Christian readers, have lent their support by endorsing or reviewing our authors’ titles:
Kay Arthur (Precept Ministries International) endorsed Judy Pex’s WALK THE LAND:
“You’ll be enriched spiritually through Judy’s story of the insights given her by her God on this journey of a lifetime.”
Still fresh in my mind and heart, this experience happened over a year ago. Looking at the night sky brings it back to me. Hearing music like I heard this week does, too: a glorious bell choir playing “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Or a symphony … and the Nativity story, with bright stars and angels appearing, giving glory to God.
Here’s what happened. In early October, Larry and I went camping in the Rockies. I wanted to see the stars. But so many campfires and lanterns and flashlights obscured the view. Then in the night, when I had to get up and hike to a campground restroom, all was quiet, all human activity was still, all was dark … except for the sky blazing with stars. And that’s when this mystical moment came: I “heard” the stars sing! Here’s the poem I wrote about this experience:
• • • • • • • • • •
I HEAR THE STARS SING
Sleeping in a tent, we must take a walk to the ‘comfort station’ sometime in the night. At 1:30 a.m. we pull out of sleeping bags, put on our shoes, snap the dog’s leash tight.
Campfires and lanterns now out, we need no flashlight to see in the ethereal glow bathing path, tents, trailers and trees, boulders, peaks, and meadows below.
Fear of bears is forgotten as, looking up, I acquiesce to the serendipitous sight— stars sprinkling the sky, a sparkling array only dreamed of on lit suburban nights.
Like music engraved across the sky, notes—not in even scores or measures, but in splashes of compositions our eyes and ears aren’t attuned to hear or decipher.
Not with physical ears do I hear music of stars singing out from the night pavilion, graced by the moon, answered by bugling elk, crooning owls and sibilant whispering wind.
Celestial strains fill my soul with consolation, comfort, and swells of settled certainty one would expect of constellations shining in place since God sang the Heavens into being.
Surely nature sings back to God day and night, I think, as we settle back in our places— born under stars, resting under starlight and listening still to star-song cadences.
It takes courage to be an author, to declare and publish to a busy, perhaps skeptical world what you have experienced privately … to tell in “bright lights” what you have seen and learned in dark places.
Long ago in Bethlehem, shepherds waiting and watching on a dark hillside experienced a wondrous awakening and illumination. Then, even as they stood there in awe of the heavenly hosts, the shepherds must have needed courage and bravery to leave their flocks in the care of their guard dogs and run into the dark, crowded city of Bethlehem to look for a newborn baby “in a manger” and then worship him as the promised king. Surely there were more qualified and famous individuals to use as messengers.
I think the needed courage gripped the shepherds because the authenticity of their experience and their certainty of it overcame their trepidation. They obeyed, they went, they told. And their story was full of immediacy and hope.
Sometimes we authors feel that way.
Though angels didn’t exactly appear to us in the night sky and declare wonderful tidings of great joy for us to write, Christian writers do sense a call from God and we experience wonder and the help of God (and perhaps even of angels) as we write. We certainly have good tidings to share.
Janyne McConnaughey is an example of one writer who has a life-changing story of hope and is compelled to write and tell her story to encourage others. I don’t know whether she has been “touched by an angel” but I know she has been touched by God with the courage to share her story. The title of her first book, BRAVE, tells that. And these comments from readers and reviewers on Amazon.com tell us of the authenticity and immediacy and hope in her story.
“There is hope!”
“A compelling journey”
“A very important book”
“A road less traveled … a path to healing”
“Kept me on the edge of my seat”
“Healing from complex trauma”
“A roadmap to freedom”
“Brave is a fitting title for this true story.”
“A beautiful soul shows us the way to hope and healing.”
“A book every person who has struggled with trauma should read.”
“This book can be your path to healing from childhood trauma.”
Whatever your place of waiting ‘in the night’—or journey in the dark— be encouraged. A savior is born and he brings good news to the oppressed, including those suffering from complex trauma.
Contests can be somewhat fickle and subjective, as well as very competitive. To be the winner of a book award, however, definitely means that the book / author / editorial team stands out in the crowded field of publishing!
Occasionally we enter an award contest (for a book that we believe has wide appeal and is particularly well-written and well-packaged).
And sometimes our authors enter writing contests themselves.
Here are a few winners through the years, of which we think we are justly proud:
When we founded Cladach Publishing, and in our first few years of book publishing, we were located in Northern California. At that time, we were members of the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association. The first novel we published, and still one of the best stories we ever published, was Katie’s Choice by Tracey Langford. We were thrilled, as a very young, new publisher to win BAIPA’s “Best Inspirational Novel” award for 2004.
By the time we published this book, Cladach had re-located to Colorado. This unique little book was a good choice to publish. It continues to have worldwide appeal and has won multiple awards. The author, Susan Bulanda, a member of the Cat Writers’ Association, Inc. and the Dog Writers Association of America, won these 2012 awards for Faithful Friends:
Alice entered two of her poems in the WrEN Award for Poetry which is sponsored by the Writers and Editors Network. Alice’s poetry was awarded Honorable Mention in Free Verse, and the judges commented: “This poet obviously enjoys playing with words and bringing fresh light to subjects that interest most readers.” We agree!
We love to see our authors out participating in their communities, sharing their expertise and their books, and meeting readers. These events happen around the country and sometimes around the world. We love to receive reports and photos of local author activities, such as the following:
On Saturday November 2, John Buzzard, author of the Cladach historical novel THAT DAY BY THE CREEK, sold and signed copies of his books at the Empire Ranch Cowboy Festival in Sonoita, Arizona, along with other members of the Western Writers of America. Looks like a great time, John! And I like the cowboy hat.
Last month, Marilyn Bay signed copies of her Cladach novel, PRAIRIE TRUTH, at Coffeehouse Ten24 in Eaton, Colorado. Marilyn says she enjoyed visiting with people “about books, writing and the rest of life.” Marilyn’s roots go deep in Northern Colorado farming soil, and all her books, including ALL WE LIKE SHEEP: LESSONS FROM THE SHEEP FARM, find eager readers near and far
James Troy Turner sold and signed copies of poetry books, POEMS and MORE POEMS during the downtown festivities for Sugar Beet Days in Sterling, Colorado. Troy enjoyed signing his books, showing off his dog, PJ, and visiting with both new and old friends and customers, some of whom remembered him from his farm-equipment mechanic days.
Dennis Ellingson, “The Herb Guy,” and Kit Ellingson, authors of three Cladach titles, set up their booth for the Master Gardener’s Fair in Central Point, Oregon. We’d love to have been there along with others of the public who stopped by to check out Dennis’s books and plants and Kit’s photography. Dennis and Kit are joint authors of THE GODLY GRANDPARENT and Dennis’s books include the popular Cladach titles, GOD’S HEALING HERBS and GOD’S WILD HERBS.
Don’t we have resourceful, ingenious, creative, and engaging authors!