Enhance Your Devotions With Poetry

Poetry for Praise, Worship, Devotion, Opening our Hearts to God

I gave a copy of Mary Harwell Sayler’s book of Praise poems to my sister, a retired English teacher. She said these poems remind her of poems by Emily Dickinson. She is reading them along with her daily Scripture and other devotional readings.

When she told me that, it got me thinking …

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 usually poetry. And this is why, 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 have found poems that helped them focus on God and his presence and love:

 

“[These] poems individually and collectively pour out love for who God is.”  –Glynn Young, blogger/reviewer

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

“Reading 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.

 

 

When I Heard the Stars Sing

Though this experience happened 2 1/2 months ago, it is still fresh in my mind and still lifts my heart. Looking at the night sky brings the experience 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 a “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.

–Catherine Lawton, ©2018

 

 

 

 

Praise the Lord from the Heavens

praise him in the heights!

Praise him, all his angels…

Praise him, all you shining stars!

Praise him, you highest heavens…

from Psalm 148:1-4, NRSV

 


Photo of stars taken in Colorado mountains: by Lionello (Unsplash)

Adoration and Celebration of the Christ Child in Poems by Mary Harwell Sayler

In her fresh, almost-breathless style, Mary designs the title as the first line in most of her poems in PRAISE! POEMS. She employs sometimes startling images and reversals. Read and meditate on these poems that praise, adore, and celebrate the Christmas Child.

 

 

Sweet Sorrow at Christmas

Ah, Christmas! Bright lights, hustle and bustle, joyous music and celebrations….

Yet, hidden behind all the glitter, many people feel the pangs of sadness and loneliness more acutely during the Christmas season. If you have ever experienced a great loss at Christmastime, the holiday season awakens that grief again each year.

I know. My mother died on December 19, many years ago. My father was the pastor of a loving church at the time, and the people were sweet to us, though they also grieved the death of their beloved pastor’s wife. Our family found comfort in togetherness—my husband and I with our two toddlers, my sister, and our dad. After the funeral, we stayed and spent Christmas in our parents’ home, with everything around us to remind us of Mother. … But no mother/wife/grandmother. She simply and permanently was not here.

At a time when we celebrated the birth of Jesus who brought new life, we learned first-hand the awful separation and finality of death. The first night after she died, I lay awake in the guest bedroom listening to Daddy sobbing his heart out in the next room.

She was too young to die—in her forties. But she was gone.

On Christmas Eve, my husband and I wanted our toddler children to have fun, not just sadness, so we borrowed little sleds and took them out to play in the snowy woods. In the fresh, crisp air, laughter came as a wonderful relief, and was exactly what Mother would want for us. Maybe she saw us and smiled with joy.

Mother had a way of infusing Christmas with music, anticipation, beauty, delicious tastes and scents, warmth and surprises. She loved decorating the house and the church, preparing special music and programs for Christmas Sunday, often sewing new dresses for my sister and me, baking cookies, and taking us Christmas shopping.

I love Christmas, too; but even after many years, the bright lights, the biting scent of pine, the taste of cinnamon and cider, the making of fudge and fruitcake, the singing of carols, the ringing of Christmas bells, the decorating of the tree, the excitement of gift giving—all is sweet sorrow.

I wonder: Did sadness mix with joy for Mary, the mother of Jesus, when she carried her baby to the temple and heard Simeon prophesy her child’s death? He said, “A sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35). Mary didn’t understand yet that Jesus’ death as well as his life would bring eternal joy in the heavens and cause celebrations of his birth for centuries to come. But she would certainly experience heart-piercing sorrow and separation.

Years later, as Mary watched Jesus die a tragic, painful death, did she despair? Or did the memory of the miracles surrounding his birth and life give her hope? Life won out. His death brought our spiritual birth.

Now we know, because of his birth, life and death, we can live—and celebrate Christmas—in the certainty that death will not have the final victory.

That one Christmas has influenced every one of my Christmases since—the year my vibrant, young Mother died. Our bereaved family celebrated together with gifts and festive food. Then we drove up a snowy hillside to a fresh, flower-covered grave site. The contrast of the red-rose-and-holly covered grave to the icy, brown hills spoke to my warring emotions.

There, feeling the pain of death’s separation, I looked up into the evening sky and noticed the first star twinkling, and I smiled through my tears. Her physical presence is gone from us here. But someday we may be with her “there.” The realities of pain, suffering, and death are inescapable. But the hope of Christmas lives!


The story of the healing I have experienced in regards to my mother is found in the book, Journeys to Mother Love: Nine Women Tell Their Stories of Forgiveness and Healing.

A Worthy King

Worthy to Receive Glory

Made to honor, we give fealty,

We seek true north like a needle.

But to look for your king

   in a pulpit, disappoints;

   in a government, fails;

   in the mirror, distorts.

Look instead with the eyes of your heart

   to the Wounded who heals;

   to the Throne that is true;

   to the Lamb who was slain,

       Christ the King.

–Catherine Lawton

© 2018

In Revelation Chapter 5 Christ the King is depicted as a Lamb who had been slaughtered. Yet all the magnificence of Heaven bowed down and worshiped this lamb.

In Isaiah 53 we are told “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

Then why do we continually seek the pretty, the popular, the powerful, the persuasive, and the polished to emulate, venerate, and follow?

 


Photo: “Thanksgiving” Stained-Glass Windows used by permission of Library of Congress

Winter’s Coming ~ Get Ready

snow nature sky night

Depending on what part of the country/world you live in, you may have already winterized your home by “backing out” the sprinkler system, cutting back perennials in the garden, mulching roses, bringing in or covering patio furniture, checking insulation around windows and doors, etc. Here in Colorado we have done some of those things. Days are mostly warm still, but night temperatures can plummet. Maybe you live in the southern hemisphere and you’re preparing for summer. You may want to read this post six months from now. More northern parts may have already seen snow as in the photo above. Brrrrr.

Christina Slike has advice for those who are preparing for shorter, colder days and for spending more time indoors:

Have you winterized your home inside?

The season is just around the corner, but there’s still time to prepare. Here’s how you can get through the extra-long dark evenings and nights:

  • Dust your bookshelves and nightstands.
  • Organize the books around your house.
  • Be excited about new adventures and knowledge you can find in a new book.
  • Order some recently-released books from Cladach. (see below)

books and speakers on black wooden shelf

While waiting for your new reads to arrive, I recommend you have a blanket, hot drink, and a comfortable, well-lit lounge area ready.

adult beverage breakfast celebration

Congratulations. You’ve winterized your home! When the Cladach books arrive from:

Cladach.com

Amazon

BarnesAndNoble.com

 Indie Bookstores …

Open, read, and enjoy!

We wish you well in your preparations for winter.

–Christina

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…” Ecclesiastes 3:1


 

 

 


Photos by:
Stefan Stefancik on Pexels.com
祝 鹤槐 on Pexels.co
Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Season of Anticipation

Welcome, November! A season of change and anticipation.

Here in Colorado we can see “every season in every season.” A sudden chill may hit and bring snow in October or November. Then back to 60 and 70 degree sunny days. But no matter where you live, change is in the air.

As we anticipate upcoming holy days and holidays, we at Cladach are preparing good things to share with our readers—some for this season and some for all seasons

1. Janyne McConnaughey has written a companion volume to her psychological memoir, BRAVE, entitled Jeannie’s BRAVE Childhood : Behavior and Healing through the Lens of Attachment and Trauma with a release planned for January/February. We hope to have the book available by Christmas. What a great gift for anyone who has children or works with children, and anyone who experienced trauma in their own childhood. If you enjoyed BRAVE (and many have) then you will love this companion volume.

2.    Yes, I (Catherine Lawton) am the publisher at Cladach, But I am also an author and poet. I am passionate about some things, such as my grandchildren, good books, and experiencing God in nature. I have combined these interests in a Christmas picture book, Something Is Coming To Our World : How a Backyard Bird Sees Christmas. Available late November on Amazon and elsewhere. This little, colorful book will be an experience for families to share.

3. Watch for new interviews, videos, giveaways, and sales on the many seasonal and gift-worthy books we publish. Stay tuned! Let joy-filled anticipation of good things rise in your heart throughout the month of November.

Look for and you will find God in this season.
“Praise the Lord from the heavens… Praise the Lord from the earth … Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 148:1,7,14)
Art by Isabelle Lawton © 2016. See more of her art/illustrations in my book of poetry, Remembering Softly : A Life In Poems.
 

An Autumn Walk

DSC_4314

Autumn Walk Along the Poudre River

I go down by the river in autumn breeze

that quakes gold leaves on craggy trees

and skitters dry ones at my feet.

The chill breeze hints of snowy peaks,

lifts cricket songs, soars hawks on high,

sails wispy clouds across clear-blue sky.

I see Kingfisher, Yellow-legs, bright Magpie;

hear squirrels chatter, Red-tails scream,

and splashing fish in sparkling stream.

God said that all He made was good;

and surely all these things are good;

and everything He does is good.

My senses and soul exult in our God

who made seasons of change and decay

to display His unchanging glory.

–Catherine Lawton


Excerpted from Remembering Softly: A LIfe In Poems

 

Realistic Poetry Review: Remembering Softly

The glory, sorrow and unquestionable beauty of life are encapsulated in Catherine Lawton’s Remembering Softly. Lawton’s prose gently captures, like coaxing a firefly into the palm, the indescribable joy of simply seeing nature and the world in action. Sure, there are vile things out there, but there are precious things which overcome them and are worth living to witness. When misfortune passes, the memories of goodness will be everlasting.

So begins a just-published review of my poetry collection, Remembering Softly: A Life In Poems, reviewed by Realistic Poetry International. They seem to have “caught” and understood my poems. The review continues:


Remembering Softly is a personal and inspirational collection with Christian themes. The poems span several years of Lawton’s writing and experiences and are richly emotional. Reading it conjures a feeling of great creation, like seeing the kaleidoscopic glimmer of sunbeams through the fire reds of autumn woods, or perhaps one of those pure winter days where the sky is an unblemished white like being just beneath the floor of heaven.

“Shadows” stood out to me, as did “Glory” and “A Walk at Dusk” as strong points of the compilation. “A Walk at Dusk” in particular is a thought-provoking and fearless piece….

Remembering Softly is truly a beautiful book, and it’s hard to find anything to dislike. If I absolutely had to choose something, some of the personal poems addressed to certain people may not be as resonant to a new reader, though it’s obvious that they were written out of love. The illustrations are a charming touch, and fit well with the poems.

I would recommend Lawton’s collection wholeheartedly, with a 5 out of 5 stars.


My thanks to Realistic Poetry for their reading, evaluation, and recommendation of my first volume of poetry. You can read their entire review HERE.

Graphic by Realistic Poetry Intl.

After the Storm: Creation Heals

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Our corner bee garden before the hail storm

It seems God created this world with the capacity for healing built into it.

I remember Kiki, my pediatrician friend, saying that she almost enjoyed it when she got a cut or other minor injury on a finger, because watching it heal was such a wonder. I took this statement from Kiki with a grain of salt. She, of course, doesn’t desire the hurts that come from random accidents and afflictions of this life.

When the hail storm hit in July, I did not enjoy seeing the near-golf ball size hail bombard our home and trees and gardens. In late July, when our gardens were at their lushest—when trees throughout town, flowers in front yards, fruits and vegetables in gardens, crops in the fields were flourishing—came a hard-hitting, hurling from the sky, storm of hail that broke, battered, tore, ripped. It only lasted a few minutes. But it left roofs with holes, windows cracked, siding pocked, bee hives panicked, birds injured, crops destroyed, gardens sad-looking.

Our gardens give us (my husband and me) pleasure. We love to share their beauty and bounty with others. So, in my disappointment over the storm’s devastation, for a few days emotional storm clouds threatened to descend into my soul.

Why, God? What’s the use of planting and tending and making beauty, if destruction can hit any time?

I know people who have weathered many storms—both storms of nature and stormy relationships. Some have given up or have chosen to play it safe in one way or another. Cut down the trees in their yard. Take out gardens and put in rocks. Choose to distance themselves from family and friends. And I’m sometimes tempted to react this way to life’s troubles and conflicts.

But I have been learning more and more to know God as Love. He doesn’t cause evil or bad things. He is not up there somewhere, angry and vindictive, choosing to send hail on some people and gentle showers on others, then watching to see our reactions.

I recently read the book, Does God Always Get What God Wants? by Tim Reddish. He writes: “The whole Godhead suffers to bring shalom to all of creation… To love our suffering sinful world is to suffer…. The one who does not see God’s suffering does not see his love. God is suffering love…. [However,] God doesn’t let suffering have the last word. Instead, God responds to every situation in ways that promote growth and healing.”

God is, always and everywhere, with us, rejoicing with us and suffering with us.

With that truth on my mind, I took advantage of a quiet morning to spend time in contemplative prayer. And there I regained a sense of help and hope.

I have found that contemplation often clears the way to action.

I put on my sun hat and garden gloves, took clippers and went out into my corner flower garden. I began cleaning up, clipping away broken, spent, bent branches and knocked-down leaves, twigs, and flowers. And as I did, with each clip, I said, “I choose hope.” “I choose love.” “I choose beauty.” “I choose to suffer with.” I choose to enter into even the suffering of nature. (We are in this life together, after all.) I choose to cooperate with God to bring order and beauty out of brokenness and chaos, to encourage hope, light, and healing. To expect renewal and new possibilities. I decided to try rooting some of the broken plant parts. I deadheaded to encourage new blooms. I noticed the bees were making the best of things, too, extracting juice from hail-broken rhubarb stalks. Perhaps they would process it into honey.

I will join nature in its response to our God’s ever-creating and re-creating presence. I will stay engaged, by God’s grace, open to His constant working to bring beauty and goodness and newness out of pain and loss and scars…to increase Shalom.

I grieve the losses, the hurts, the scars; but like my friend Kiki, amazed at watching her finger heal, I choose to embrace hopeful wonder.

May God’s kingdom come.

 

 

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