By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – August 23, 2017) — My poem Blink was recently published in The Penwood Review, a journal dedicated to the poetry of people of faith . To be more specific, “The Penwood Review (ISSN 1092-5155) was established to embrace high quality poetry of all kinds, and to provide a forum for poets who want to write intriguing, energetic, and disciplined poetry as an expression of their faith in God. We encourage writing that elevates the sacred while exploring its mystery and meaning in our lives.”
As I read through the latest issue, I was reminded that some marvelous poets have been clergymen. As an example, there’s the New Mexico poet-priest Fray Angelico Chavez.
Born Manuel Ezequiel, Chavez was born in Wagon Mound, New Mexico in 1910. After school, he attended St. Francis Seminary in Mount Healthy, Ohio. After graduation, Chavez returned to New Mexico. Chavez was the first native New Mexican to become a Franciscan friar. During his long career, he served as priest, artist, poet, 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 work based upon a painting by Salvador Dali. Nobel Prize winning poet T. S. Eliot said The Virgin of Port Lligat was a “very commendable achievement.”
But Fray Angelico Chavez is just one on a long list of poet-clergyman. Among other notable clergy-poets are Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Philippe de Veitry (1291-1361), Guilaume de Machaut (1300-1377), John Donne (1572-1631), Robert Herrick (1591-1674), George Herbert (1593-1633), Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), Michael Wigglesworth (1631-1705), Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1899), William Everson (1912-1994), Thomas Merton (1915-1968), R.S Thomas (1913-2000), Daniel Berrigan (1920-2016), Paul Brendan Murray (b. 1947), and Kilian McDonnell —to name a few. And I just mentioned some of the prominent poets. We could easily go back to the early Irish and Latin poets, forming another long list . And these are just the clergy-poets. Dozens of poets who are also followers of Christ—and not clergy—are numerous, too many to list .
The bottom line is that poets abound in the Christian faith.
A simple question comes to mind: why so many great poets within the Christianity?
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. And 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.
A third reason is that God is a poet, or at least the One who inspired poetry. One-third of the Old Testament and portions of the New Testament is written in poetry. Whole books such as the Psalms and Song of Solomon were written in verse, not to mention poetical nuances found in the teachings of Jesus and various prophets throughout the entire scope of Holy Writ. Words — poetry included — are an important means in God’s sphere of communication.
One final thought as to why poetry is important to the Christian faith: the Christian-informed Western world has elevated the role of the poet to sage, seer, and truth-teller; and Christians yearning to be seekers of the truth have gravitated toward poetry, following a path of truth and imagination leading to Christ.
Whatever the reason, we within the Christian world can rejoice that so many Christians have taken up poetry: blessing us, inspiring us, and challenging us with words of beauty, goodness, and truth — even when the truth hurts, helping us in this journey of life with poems to ponder, study, and memorize.
- For a short catalog of modern poets, you can skim http://www3.dbu.edu/mitchell/christia3.htm
Photo captions: 1) The Penwood Review. 2) George Herbert. 2) Thomas Merton. 3) William Everson. 4) RS Thomas. 5) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, artist, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA), Veritas Evangelical Seminary (MA), and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon
** You may republish this, and any of our ANS stories, with attribution to the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net). Please also tell your friends that they can receive a complimentary subscription to our news service by going to the ANS website (see above) and signing up there.