Poetry is a Worldview



Recently, I was sitting at home alone on a Tuesday evening. As sad as it sounds that really describes most of my evenings. But on this particular night my solitude was interrupted by a telephone call from a friend in Georgia. After a few pleasantries, and in the typical southern fashion that recognizes no concept of privacy or personal space, he asked, “What are you doing?” (For some reason whenever you hand southerners a telephone they become the “apple pie and sweet tea” version of the Grand Inquisitor.) “I am writing a poem,” I said. “You’re doing what,” he asked a bit surprised. “I’m writing a poem.” To which he responded, “I don’t believe I have ever called and interrupted anyone who was busy on a Tuesday night writing poetry.” Then he added, “You are a true Renaissance man.”

I appreciated that comment more than he knew. I probably took it more seriously than it was intended. I only wish that I were more medieval because moderns and postmoderns are really bad poets. It’s not because they can’t spell or thump out cadences, it’s because they can’t liken or see isness in the world. For them, everything just is what it is; whatever is is.

Moderns and postmoderns like to think of themselves as distinct philosophical clubs. The postmoderns think that they have transcended the folly of their fathers, and the moderns look down on their poor idiot son. But when it comes to metaphor they are the same salesman.

Metaphor is exactly where they feel they differ, and metaphor is the bed they share.

While the postmods think that all of communication and reality is metaphor, the mods refuse to acknowledge their own use of it. They dismiss it as imperfect and useless, pursuing perfection through math and other false attempts at abstraction. The postmods say that such escape into abstraction is impossible. The mods say “nu uh,” and so on. But when the issue shifts from where metaphor is used, to what it is, they are in agreement. Metaphor is nothing. Both parties agree that metaphor is meaningless.

We, like the moderns, must say that there is meaning in the world though we must not place it in puppet abstraction as they do. Like the postmoderns, we must say that all is metaphor, but must not say that metaphor is meaningless.

In a Christian world (this one), you can drink metaphors. You can eat them. You can crack your skull with one, or skin your pudgy knee. In this world, to exist is to be spoken, spoken by the One Who speaks all. We are held in our being by His Word. All of creation is metaphor, but it is metaphor that you can measure, metaphor with weight, mass and dustiness.

Human metaphor is a means of knowledge and communication. We point with ours, but God’s take on flesh—the flesh of fruit and trees, the flesh of wind and weeds. All of reality is nothing but words, but they are His words, and they are incarnate.

On an ultimate level, reality is made from nothing. We know that there was no matter before creation and that God did not make creation out of anything. He spoke, and it was, and it is. That is what the world is made of. Nothing. No things. There was no matter, then there was matter, and that matter, the matter that we and the world around us are made of, is made from and out of nothing.

But not really, right?

What’s an apple made of? It’s made of glucose, that is made of carbon that is pulled from CO2 that we, among other things, breath out. Apples are made out of the air through a fun game played by the Sun. What is carbon made of? Well, molecules, and atoms, and then electrons, and elementary particles or something, and then something else.

Eventually, even though it is unlikely that we would ever reach the very bottom, and find the smallest brick, we as Christians must say that the apple, and everything else, is made out of nothing. There is nothing that God used to make this apple. We do not say that nothing was grabbed and shaped and moulded into an apple, but that there is quite literally no thing that it is made out of. This apple is held in existence, extended spatially and temporally, by the omnipotent Word. This apple is spoken from nothing. This apple is made by nothing other than a word, an all-powerful, all-creative, all-beautiful word, spoken by the one Word.

This is true for everything around us in time and space. It is true for time and space itself. All things, at all times, are composed of nothing. They are the miraculously enfleshed words of God. The miracle of creation is constant, and should a thing no longer be held, should the apple no longer be spoken, it would be gone and no parts of it would clatter to the ground beneath, because there are no parts. There are only words. Only, but only is the wrong word.

But what does all this mean? How does it affect metaphor? It affects metaphor because we are God’s metaphors. We are His story.

This doesn’t mean that we are not real. But it does change how we think of the real. We are not just dirty bags of mostly water. We are wonderfully miraculous dirty bags of mostly water. We are created from nothing. We are not illusions, we are not the wisps of sound spoken by human voices. We and the stones have shape. We walk through time and space with weight trouble and stubbed toes. We eat and drink, we laugh and our noses run. We are words, but we are words with mass. We are words that can stink, need baths, snore at night, and kiss. We aren’t just prose written with a straight-edge; we are the poetry of Divinity. We are real, far more real than we imagine, because we are words. We and the world have meaning because we were spoken.

This is appalling to all modernities. There is meaning, and it is found in the Word. Our own words, patterns, natures, are metaphors for it. They are the only way that we can communicate; they are the only things that we can be. We are the felt-board shepherds and sheep. We are the story, the painting, the song. We are all metaphors, and we find meaning because of this fact. We are all spoken by God in a relationship of reflection to Him.

Those claiming postmodern status see one-half of the metaphor, things floating, and then deny reality because of it. God is erased, and metaphor becomes meaningless. Moderns deny God as well, and achieve meaninglessness but are not content to remain there. They strive to climb up their own backs into the sky, hunting for categorical imperatives, pi, a straight line, perfect circles, and ones, and zeros.

But we are words, and so we should dance. We should stomp and play, grow muddy and take baths. We are words, and so we know we have weight.

So I write words.



  1. This is so good. I love this, especially: “All of creation is metaphor, but it is metaphor that you can measure, metaphor with weight, mass and dustiness.”

    And I’m reminded of the sacraments and the way they’re described in Vander Zee’s Christ, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. Which I would share except I’ve misplaced my book.

  2. I found it. It’s a little difficult to summarize what he says about sacraments, because he essentially describes them (in my opinion) by giving a variety of descriptions or definitions which, taken together, create a full picture. Examining only one presents an unbalanced view. But here are a couple examples:

    “Indeed, if God can save us by faith in his Word, what do we need sacraments for? Frank Senn argues that we need them because ‘the gospel is not proclaimed by stating propositions….Preaching is not giving a lecture, it is an incanting, a posturing, a storytelling, a proclaiming. The forgiveness of sins is not only promised by sentences, but by sentences joined to a bath, the laying on of hands, and communal eating and drinking.’ The words may change, but there is no baptism without water, or no Lord’s Supper without bread or wine.”

    “Christ himself…the quintessential sacrament….Since Christ is the word made flesh, true God and true man, as he is confessed by the whole church, Christ is the meeting place of God and humanity, spirit and matter, invisible and visible.”

    These present an extremely limited picture of Vander Zee’s portrayal of the sacraments, but tying together with what you’ve written, I think in a way we could argue that the sacraments are the poetry of the Church, where preaching is the prose.

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