Guest post by Brian Wakeman, author of Knowing Through Poetic Reflection.
The Christian Church has had an ambivalent attitude to art through the centuries.
On the one hand parish churches can be a living art gallery with works in praise of God, illustrating stories from Scripture and expressing faith through rich symbols. On the other hand some traditions have turned away from art, destroying “unreformed images”, and kept an austere and simple form of decoration and church furniture. Fear of idolatry has suppressed some expressions of human creativity, of ‘being made in the Image of God’.
Poetry and verse through psalms, hymnology and song has had a much more positive contribution to a range of denominations whether through formal collects, beautiful prayers, or through the amazing verse of Charles Wesley. I learned my basic theology through these great hymns. Contemporary worship songs provide a new generation with joyful expressions of faith.
In my research for the book ‘Knowing Through Poetic Reflection’ I rediscovered how much art and poetry is in the Bible. Art was an important feature in the ancient Hebrew Tabernacle furnishings, and later arts and crafts feature in the building of the Temple in Solomon’s reign.
Poetry is a major genre of writing in the Bible, alongside narrative. Think of the Psalms, the Prophets, Song of Solomon, and later some examples in the New Testament, where some scholars see songs, poetic forms, rich pictorial language in the Gospels and Paul’s letters. Poetic forms seem to be one of the ways the text is written, transmitted and memorised.
Arts, particularly poetry seem to be part of the story of the mission of God. So how may art and poetry be used in ministry and missIon? Much depends on our use of the words ‘ministry’ or ‘mission’. Old hymns and beautiful buildings still speak to people today, teach and encourage worship and faith, and poetry may be used to reflect about the Bible, and the minister’s sermon. Further poetry can communicate the Faith to people outside the church.
Reading verse can encourage, motivate and challenge the reader. A few lines of verse can have a prophetic dimension where the Holy Spirit touches people. There are examples in my book.
The book also describes an outreach project where a local church serves people from the community who are invited to participate in an art group. We have set up an atmosphere of welcome and acceptance where thirty to forty people come to express God given creative talents. We celebrate the seasons of the creation, and take opportunity to introduce people to the Creator.
The group is missional at several levels:
A creative opportunity to get out
Learning to paint
Listening and sharing God’s love.
Opportunities to become disciples of Jesus.
We have seen people encouraged, given an enjoyable activity, and seen some come to faith.
The team members serve, but God produces the fruit.
KNOWING THROUGH POETIC REFLECTION expands on these themes, and describes how writing humorous verse helped the author recover from cancer treatments. He hopes churches will be encouraged to employ art and poetry in ministry and mission, and that God’s Spirit will speak through his poems.