Of Prayer and Poetry as Necessary to Life….

Last week’s readings from Dorothee Soelle are among the most interesting and compelling I have read thus far in this summer course/retreat, “Soelle Summer” facilitated by Jane Redmont. Soelle writes with great clarity and conviction on the subject of lost language and the subsequent reality of lost experiences. The primary cause for lost language and the inability to articulate life experience is the impact of scientific methodology and the language of the enlightenment. The certainty of this method leads to a progression of thought that lacks narrative, denies the importance of lived experience, making data primary. Soelle writes:

Regarding the “Professionalization of Theology” – Scientific thought and language are taking over and becoming our “theology” – the impact of this, according to Soelle, is a loss of language for prayer and narrative (telling stories/myth). As a society we are losing the language needed to articulate our life experiences – especially complicated experiences such as guilt, suffering and sin. (Soelle’s understanding of this reminds me of Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, “Speaking of Sin”, which I have read several times. Taylor says much the same thing and feels strongly that losing this language will be to the detriment of humanity for we run the risk of denying some important experiences that make life meaningful). (from Essential Writings, page 171).

Soelle goes on to say:

The impact of the Enlightenment era is a belief that there is a logical progression and irreversible development from “myth” to Logos (logos as progressive consciousness). Progressive Consciousness (Logos) reduces myth to an idea. Soelle asks, “Is it true that in time myth, through religion, dies in the Logos?

There are good reasons to deny the idea of progressive secularization (aka the effect of the Enlightenment on religious thought). Inspite of enlightenment religious thought has not become superfulous, has not become insignificant to human decisions.

We come nearer the truth of religious consciouness when we regard it as sharing simultaneously all three forms of religious expression: telling a story – myth, confession, and theology – idea building.

Theology is dependent upon narrative, story telling, retelling myth and articulating experiences. Male appropriation of the world deprives a full expression of the whole story – women’s experiences and voices are left out the full narraitve, theology has become one-sided – and in the process has diminished the mythic-narrative (ie the scientific model of describing the world is male and diminished the mythic-narrative experiential dimension of the world).

Prayer and narrative are essential to theology. A new synthesis of myth, religion, and reflection is arising today wherever theology has a liberating character. (page 173).

There is a theology without poetry that through various mechanisms seals itself against the renewal of language. Sentences that are “theopoetic” (envisioning God poetically) are dismissed as “merely literary” and distinguished from the supposedly theological… The most important wall that unpoetic theology has erected against renewal and change is the enslavement of theology to science, in which attempts to crack the ice of the soul are themselves subject to the freezing process. pg 174 – Here Soelle crafts an argument against scientific thought and methodology as it impacts our understanding of faith, God, religion, even as she also acknowledges that there are some benefits to critical reasoning (scientific thought).

“Obviously critical reason has a place in theology and performs a necessary function against superstition and biblicalism. But those who command only the language of science remain ignorant in essential relationships. …It’s greater weakness is that it isolates us from myth, religion, and poetry and suffocates our mythic, religious, poetic nature…” by limiting our language to describe our relationships and lived experiences. (page 174).

Soelle writes: “Mere rational language is not enough. It is too small for our needs. It explains but does not satisfy. It “enlightens” – even if seldom – but does not warm. It defines, sets limits, criticisizes, makes possible distinctions, but the most important works, namely communication, is not attempted in this language….At best the language of the enlightenment forbides making an ideology of God…but the language of the enlightenment does say what it means to love God above all else (from page 175 but edited using my words)….

And then she offers this definition of myth as “the story of the invasion of divine energies into human reality, necessary for expressing the future or even a hope for the world….”

Religious language can teach us to identify our feelings, to know ourselves and make ourselves known. There is a shallowness free of religion that is also directed against poetry. Language itself, which is full of remembrance, opposes that shallowness. (pages 175-176).

Ultimately Soelle is arguing for the use of poetic language and prayer as a means to stay connected to our lived experiences of life and our relationships. She rightly (in my experience) states that as a whole society and theologians have diminished the importance of poetic language by claiming it is “feminine” and therefore of less value than the scientific language of “fact” and “truth.” But as Soelle, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Mary Oliver remind me, poetic language harbors a truth deeper than fact, a reality that transcends the superficial and points us the heart of life itself. Here is a great example of poetry as prayer speaking deeply into the reality of life.

The Summer Day

Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


About Terri C Pilarski

I am an Episcopal priest serving a delightfully progressive, interesting, creative congregation. I have been married more than half my life to the same man. We have two grown children, plus two dogs and two cats, although the number of four legged household members changes from time to time. I love to garden, knit, read, and play on Facebook or with my blog. I have been a practitioner of daily meditation since I was nineteen. I practice yoga five days a week and walk every where I am able too.
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2 Responses to Of Prayer and Poetry as Necessary to Life….

  1. Rolling over at 2:00 am, this was a pleasure to follow. Mary Oliver's poem is a perfect compliment to the strange night birds whose singing just now suggests that we share a restlessness tonight. But for she and Soelle, I might not have appreciated that.

  2. Terri says:

    Jimmy, I hope you found peace in your wakefulness…I really love hearing birds late at night and in the early morning. I am especially fond of water fowl but tree birds delight me as well.

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