Conversatio Divina

Part 1 of 4

Introduction to Poetry as Spiritual Practice

Jean Nevills

As a Spiritual Director I have a front row seat to Mystery: the way of God with a soul. Just as holy and tender is the soul’s initiatives and response to God. Listening to the sacred disclosures, I am a witness to their mutual vulnerability in Divine intimacy.

Often these encounters are expressed haltingly with sighs, in images, metaphors and emotion. I hear phrases inspired or borrowed from the Old Testament Prophets and Psalms, from soaring hymns and praise-band songs, from gospel, rap, and rock n roll, even from graffiti on a bathroom stall. It’s expressive. It’s spirited. It’s nuanced. It’s Poetry.

There is something about poetry that tiptoes around the distracted contracted mind, quietly connecting the heart and soul to the Divine as Creator, Desirer, Lover. The poetic utterance and phrases come from a different place, a contemplative space; writing it is a form of worship and revelation. As the poet Jane Hirshfield writes:

Poetry itself when allowed to, becomes within us a playable organ of perception, sounding out its own forms of knowledge and forms of discovery…. Seeing through poetry’s eyes, hearing through poetry’s ears, we come to know ourselves less tempered, more free than we were, and connected to—emancipated into, if you will—a larger world.Jane Hirshfield, Ten Windows, How Great Poems Transform the World. (Alfred Knopf, New York) c.2015 p.7

In Spiritual Direction we rely on the Spirit to illumine the unseen sacred Presence in all things and to cultivate awareness so that in reflecting on seen things the unseen can be known. But you needn’t wait for your next session with your spiritual director to presence those aha moments. You can welcome the soul’s disclosures through writing, poetry or prose, as a spiritual practice.

As a lifelong journaller, I’ve found that keeping a regular practice of pressing pen across a lined page, watching ink gel dry in dots and letters without editing, then reflecting on them, offers glances and glimmers of God’s movements and surprising invitations.

The poems that follow lean toward theophany and offer poignant reflections from the poets’ encounters with and response to God. As you bear witness to their mutual vulnerability in Divine Intimacy, we hope they will encourage your reflection, devotion, and the Spirit’s revelation in your own soul.