Poetry Helps Us Open Our Hearts to God
by Catherine Lawton
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. In fact, 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 seeks to woo and reach us through the five senses he has given us? The prophet Isaiah wrote often in poetry. Sometimes poetic expression reaches straight to the heart more effectively than prose.
“Poetry, in capturing the moment, captures the soul,” says poet Mary Harwell Sayler.
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, you probably are more “into” poetry than you realize. Song lyrics are a type of poetry. Along with the instruments and voices, the words of songs can pierce or soothe our hearts as well as our minds.
Voltaire called poetry “the music of the soul.”
On World Poetry Day (March 21) and every day I encourage you to begin the practice of including poetry in your devotional reading, meditative prayer, quiet times, and soul care.
Eugene Peterson stated, “People who pray, need to learn poetry.”
But don’t just take my word for it. Listen to these comments from readers who have found poems help them focus on, and open their hearts to, God’s presence and love:
“In our own seasons of suffering, [these poems give us] words to explain the pain, to cry out to God, or to get a grip on our faith.” –Elaine Wright Colvin (after reading I Cry Unto You, O Lord by Sarah Suzanne Noble
“This book is a steady and wise companion for those who read the Bible with real devotion and honest questions.” –Connie Wanek (after reading Bible Poems by Donna Marie Merritt)
“Each one [of these poems] lifts my heart towards God. They have become a part of my morning devotions.” –Bev Coons (reader of PRAISE! Poems by Mary Harwell Sayler)
“So many of the poems provided moments of prayer for me.” ~Jimmie Kepler (speaking of Glimpsing Glory by Catherine Lawton)
Poetry, and all the feelings it represents, connects us to all of humanity’s longings and searchings for God. Here is one of my favorite poems of devotion, written by Irish poet Thomas Moore, about 200 years ago:
MY GOD! SILENT TO THEE!
As, down in the sunless retreats of the ocean,
Sweet flowers are springing no mortal can see,
So, deep in my heart, the still prayer of devotion,
Unheard by the world, rises, silent, to Thee,
My God! Silent, to Thee,—
Pure, warm, silent, to Thee.
As still to the start of its worship, though clouded,
The needle points faithfully o-er the dim sea,
So, dark as I roam, thro’ this wintry world shrouded,
The hope of my spirit turns, trembling, to Thee,
My God! Trembling, to Thee,—
True, fond, trembling, to Thee.
On hopeful paths of prayer and poetry,
(Photo by Thomas Jay Oord. Used with permission.)
(This post was revised and expanded from one I first published here in 2018. In this form, it first appeared on the Godspace Blog to celebrate World Poetry Day, 2023).