..well, over 1,000 poems actually. Let me explain.
It was around Advent 2019, and we had moved to Hungary early that year. New routines were being established as we settled into this season of serving as missionaries. Without the “church office” I’d grown used to having, most of my office work and even personal moments of study/prayer were happening in our apartment. I found some of the things I valued and wanted to be disciplined to include in my day became (as anything can) items to “check off the list”. One of those things was reading scripture on a daily basis, unrelated to “work”.
So as an experiment, I tried to write in response to the Lectionary passage from any given day. (The “Lectionary” is a set of daily scripture readings, spanning a 3-year cycle, used by many Christian churches globally. Each day’s readings usually include an Old Testament passage, a Psalm, and a New Testament passage. I love using this cycle, knowing that many of God’s children around the world are feasting on the same heart of God revealed in those same words on any particular day/week.) To write in response to all three passages, uniting them in a “theme” of some sort seemed a bit forced. I decided to choose one of the three passages each day and write a poem that invited my heart to consider a prayerful response. I enjoyed these first days of experimentation so much, I set a goal of doing this for 3 years which would take me through the entire “Revised Common Lectionary”.
I’ve always loved poetry, and the impact words can have on my heart and mind. I also love thinking and studying scriptures or theology, and have even thought about writing a book for public consumption. But more than once I’ve set out to write a book only to realize what I’m saying has already been said by someone who set it down in words quite well. But the playground of poetry has always been one I feel well-equipped to enjoy. I’m encouraged in this direction every time I find a poem I’d previously written, and feel moved by the words there. Sometimes it’s as if I’m a different person than the man who wrote the poem originally, and I suppose it is true. We are all constantly becoming the person we will be tomorrow while seeking to exist faithfully in the life we’re invited by today.
Not long into this endeavor, the global pandemic threw all kinds of ordered life into disorder, and I found the comfort and routine of writing these poems each day a familiar invitation. They (or rather, the God who met with me in these moments) became a source of stability and a reminder of God’s faithfulness during a time when so much of the world seemed to be asking “What can we still depend on?” As I look back on these three volumes, I’m thankful for the heart they continued to shape in me. I’m thankful for the ways God met with me in these moments. I don’t think many of them were individually life-altering. Rather, it’s the consistent presence and invitation to be Loved within His story that continues to shape my heart in response.
So here we are, having arrived at a point where all three years of poetry are available to the public. I’ve “self-published” them, not because I don’t believe in the power of publishing houses with built-in audiences and powerful stamps of approval, but because I know it takes work/marketing to pursue these roads. If anyone is interested in doing something with them – please let me know (while I continue pastoring full-time, of course). But this was the easiest path toward sharing them with whoever may be interested and preserving them for my kids to read their kids at family prayer times (no pressure, kids). Each book has slightly more than 365 poems included, which makes the total poetry available over 1,000 poems easily. I’ve given them the title “Poems for a Pray-er”, which may confuse some people. The hyphen indicates these are not just poems to be used as a “prayer”, but rather used by someone who wants to pray. Someone who wants to pray, I would refer to here as a “pray-er”. As I confess in each introduction – these are not all incredible poems. In fact, some of them should be re-written. None of them were labored over for long periods of time. But each are unique and written in that moment of response where I sought to hear from and respond to the heart of God revealed in scripture.
For me, there’s an obvious question of “What now?” For my personal times of prayer and scripture, I’ve begun to enjoy reading the Bible on its own again. I still use the lectionary to determine which passages to read most days. I love writing longer “Spoken Word” poetry, and will probably write some new words in this direction from time to time. I look forward to how God continues to use and redirect my passion for words and His Word.
If poems aren’t your thing, I want to encourage you – whatever your “thing” is, experiment with it. But in your experimenting and loving response to a mysteriously infinite God, examine where you might be “checking things off the list”, and ask God if He might delight in a new approach there. You may find that some methods actually retain their effectiveness (as a “Free Method-ist”, I definitely agree!), so don’t be afraid if some patterns stick for years, or even a lifetime. Whatever it looks like, may our lives continue to be shaped and reshaped daily in the Love God has revealed to us in Jesus Christ, empowered even today by His Spirit…