Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Poets and the Clergy
By Brian Nixon
Special to ASSIST News Service
UERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS) -- While recently preparing for two courses I’m teaching this year—at two different schools—I had a re-epiphany of sorts. Through my preparation, I was again reminded that some great poets have also been wonderful clergymen.
New Mexico actually has a long history with the Christian faith, extending back to the late 1500’s with the arrival of the Franciscans who traveled with the conquistadors. During my research, I began to uncover men who have traveled the New Mexico Christian research road before me. One such man was familiar to me. Fray Angelico Chavez is a Franciscan priest, poet, scholar, and author of over 20 books.
Fray Angelico Chavez (birth name Manuel Ezequiel) was born in Wagon Mound, New Mexico in 1910. After school, he attended St. Francis Seminary in Mount Healthy, Ohio. After graduation, Chavez was the first native New Mexican to become a Franciscan friar. He died in 1996.
Chavez served as priest, artist, poet, military chaplain, and New Mexico scholar. Yet to many, he is best remembered as a poet. The author of many poems, his greatest work, “The Virgin of Port Lligat”, is a poem based upon a painting by Salvador Dali.
Nobel Prize winning poet T. S. Eliot said the poem was a “very commendable achievement.”
I then began preparing for another class, “Anglican Thought and History”, which I will be co-teaching with Dr. Peter Riola. The course is part of the Anglican training program at St. Alcuin’s House Seminary.
Poets abound everywhere in the Christian faith.
I began to remember: there are other clergy poets. Just a cursory jog of the memory came up with John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Daniel Berrigan, Calvin Miller, Thomas Merton, Brother Antonnius (William Everson), and R. S. Thomas.
I then asked myself a simple question: why are there so many great poets within the Christian faith?
One reason can be attributed to inspiration, being moved by new life found in Christ and the beautiful vision of the Christian worldview.
Another reason could be the emphasis on the word. Jesus Himself was called the Word. Christians look to the Word, the Bible, for influence, edification, and moral guidance. Words have always played an important role within the Judeo-Christian worldview.
Perhaps the Christian-informed Western world has elevated the role of the poet to sage, seer, and truth-teller, and Christians, yearning to be seekers fof the truth, have gravitated toward poetry, following a path leading to Christ.
Whatever the reason, we, within the Christian and secular world, can rejoice that so many Christians have taken up poetry: blessing us, inspiring us, and challenging us with words of beauty, horror, and truth.
We are honored to have our brothers and sisters helping us along this journey of life with words to ponder, study, and memorize. We thank them for their ability to light a word in a world of darkness. As one Christian poet, William Stafford, has said: “The darkness around us is deep.”
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