Poetry this Lent

Photo: Doug Lemke
Photo: Doug Lemke
Published March 4, 2014

This article first appeared in the March issue of the Anglican Journal.

I get a little anxious before Lent. Forty days of self-examination, purification and closer journeying with Christ feel like a set-up for failure on my part. I have a lot on my plate: highly engaging work for justice, long daily commutes, people in my life who need my active presence, things to do and places to go.

My spiritual practices-short Bible readings and prayer after dinner, silent prayers and listening for God’s small voice in the middle of sleepless nights, participating in weekly eucharist-guide me as a follower of Jesus. I once was told that “the Ignatian exercises are not for you!” And now, 40 days…!

Notwithstanding all the Lenten wisdom and practice passed down through the ages, there is something that wakes me up and quickens my step: poetry.

Does not my heart burn within me when I savour Mary Oliver’s “Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” That’s gospel; that’s essence.

I plan to heed the invitation to encounter storytellers, artists, musicians and poets from Mi’Kmaq to Nuu-chah-nulth, Mohawk to Dene. May the Spirit speak to us as we contemplate Rita Joe’s “I lost my talk” in residential school, or make ourselves fully present at performance art by young aboriginal artists.

Wendell Berry sparks courage when he advises in Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front: “As soon as the generals and the politicos can predict the motions of your mind, lose it. Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn’t go. Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection.”

Poetry…this Lent, I will read it quietly, speak it out loud. It’s food for the journey.

HENRIëTTE THOMPSON is the General Synod’s director of public witness for social and ecological justice.


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