Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.

Percy Bysshe Shelley once said, in defense of poetry itself, “Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.”  I wonder sometimes if this isn’t what theology is, the knitting together of brokenness, the picking up of various pieces of experience, some lovely, some jagged, others jarring and discordant, remaking it into something new.  Transformation.  Relearning to see and hear.  Feeling anew about things we’ve thought, unclenching our fists from around our grimiest, most treasured conceptions and opening them to new light.  The road leading toward the end of seminary seems strewn, more than ever, with obstacles to step around, scramble over, slash through.  I’m exceptionally tired.  Theology, or as it’s called sometimes, “faith seeking understanding,” doesn’t come much clearer to me now than it did two and a half years ago.  I’ve learned some tricks, most of which are short-hand for making beautiful that which is distorted.  I have to say, there are two that have saved me from throwing myself to the ground a couple (alright, more than a couple) of times and pitching an all-star temper tantrum in a fit of exhaustion and frustration with how slowly I seem to learn this stuff.  With how unwillingly I apply it to who and what I am to be and become in this world. 

The first: the ability to say, without evasion and summoning up as much wonder as I can muster, “It’s a mystery.”  Mysterion, the secret counsel of God, this is simply something I have been learning to accept.  Even more, to value.  Really, believing that there is mystery, a sacred thing that is beyond me to comprehend or appreciate, to dissect and label, this is a gift.  Because humility is a gift, and that’s what mystery casts upon us.  Well, on me, anyhow.  It is comforting sometimes to feel small, because that means that there is something much bigger than me, and It understands and sees what I don’t.

The second: the all-purpose question, “Where is God in this?”  Try it.  This is a question you can ask of nearly any circumstance, personal or global, terrifying, ugly, awesome, curious, paradoxical, lovely.  Where, how, is God in this?  It’s odd to me, but the question forces us to allow God back into the picture.  The question isn’t a lament, “Is God in this?” but a statement of faith… yes, God’s in here, somewhere, I just haven’t been looking well enough.  God isn’t hiding here, I simply need to crack open the heavy eyelids of my heart and actually try to see.  Distortion is the impermanent but unfortunate ruining, the altering, of something that is not naturally the way it’s being perceived at that moment.  With the right mirror, its beauty returns and it’s seen as it was meant to be.  How, that’s a mystery.  But it’s God’s mystery, and I’ll take it.

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1 Comment »

  1. Jules Said:

    I’m reading W. Coffin right now, and he has a wonderful quote in Letters to a Young Doubter that I thought needed to be appended to this post:

    “Leonard Bernstein wrote about Beethoven: “He broke all the rules and turned out pieces of breathtaking righteousness.” The same of course, could be said of great painters and poets, and, as a matter of fact, that pretty much the way I feel about God” (3).


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