If there is one thing in this world I love more than communal singing, it’s poetry. When I was still in the single digits, I wrote poems to my mom and left them on the kitchen counter so she’d see them before she went to work. I once had a summer project that involved carving haikus into bars of soap with a tiny screwdriver. I remember the first poem I ever wrote. “The moon is shining up above; a silver symbol of God’s love.” Humble beginnings…
Pastor Frank found out I liked poetry and shared that with David Bates, and he and I have since sparked a joyous friendship. Colonel Bates invited me a few weeks ago to a meeting of a local group of poets, called Poetry In Progress. We sat in the back room of a Mexican Restaurant in Desoto eating fajitas and sopapillas, and listening one by one to poems written by each person in the room. The poets were a diverse group of all ages, ethnicities and socio-economic levels. Some were more skilled than rhyme and meter than others, but all wrote and read with passion and intent.
Colonel Bates sent me home with a book of his poetry, and I’ve been enjoying it since. On my way home from that meeting, I tried to remember my earliest exposure to poetry. I wanted to remember why I went toward poetry in this first place, rather than anything else that had interested me. What I remembered was hearing my mother sing hymns while she was cooking and cleaning. She would sing and sing and sing, and I loved her voice, so I would listen to every word. “Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above! Praise thy mount, I’m fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love.”/ “So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown.” / “O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood, to every believer the promise of God; the vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives!”
The beauty of poetry, for me, is the concise yet creative expression of truth. Hymns are exactly this! My mom used to say that hymns had “good theology.” At the time, I didn’t know what that meant, but now I know she is right. (It’s just an added bonus that the life-saving words are set to music with four voice parts so the congregation can sing them together in harmony.) Next time you go to a service, try taking out the hymnal and just reading through some of the hymns. You’ll find some beautiful poetry in those stanzas, and some “good theology” too.