People generally cringe or roll their eyes when they hear the word “poetry.”
For some, poetry means a dimly lit coffee house with strangely dressed college students reciting poems that, if we’re being honest, really just sound like a bunch of random words mashed together to describe their “feelings.”
For others, poetry takes them back to their dingy high school classroom with that one English teacher who kept pushing poems beneath their noses that didn’t make any sense and then demanding that they figure out what the poem is “really saying,” as if all poems were just cruel tricks written by poets to confuse the masses.
And the majority of people associate poetry with silly rhymes from their childhood about rabbits and spiders that taught lessons like “eat your vegetables” or “don’t crawl up a water spout in the middle of a downpour.” Silly. Childish, in every sense of the word.
But here’s not so much of a secret: poetry doesn’t have to be confusing. And the topics so many poets explore could hardly be classified as childish.
You might imagine the English language like two different hiking trails.
Prose (the complete sentences that you’re reading right now) is that paved trail shared by both walkers and bikers alike: the direction of the sentence is clear and is easy for our brains to navigate, allowing us to breeze through each paragraph at whatever pace we desire. We might walk slowly through each sentence, admiring the view, but the direction ahead is clear and paved before us.
Poetry is that unpaved trail that challenges the reader to slow down, mind their footing, and explore the vibrancy and intricacies of the world around them. Just like hiking through a dense wood to a waterfall, you can’t help but feel as if you’ve entered a new dimension while reading a poem, as if you’re quietly hiking through the heartbeat of a world vibrant with mystery and passion.
So why write poetry?
Our emotions swirl inside us like dirty water in a shaken glass jar. We can be tired, overjoyed, arrogant, scared, broken, thankful, and angry all within the hour.
Putting our emotions to paper—exploring them in a form that anticipates this emotional instability from the writer—is one way of slowing down. Of calming the waters inside our jars so we can recognize the dirt and dust within ourselves settling on the bottom.
Write Your Own Psalms:
The Psalms are some of the oldest poems in the world, and they’re riddled with every human emotion imaginable as the poet tries to make sense of God and His plans for this world: joy, gratitude, anger, frustration, fear, love, sadness, hope, desire. The Psalms are not simply poems about these things—they embody them.
First try reading straight through the Psalms for a month. Read 3 or 5 in a row each day. Don’t pick and choose the “nice” verses over the “bad” ones. The Psalms are meant to embody the ups and downs of human life. Ignoring one verse while emphasizing another is like trying to build a chord with only one voice.
Read. And then write your own.
Writing the psalms of your life may sound like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. At all. Especially when the only requirement is to prayerfully write as yourself. Your genuine, authentic, work-in-progress self.
How awesome would it be to have a journal full of your own personal psalms that speak to your daily joys and struggles? What a sweet and beautiful way to tell your story. And to speak with God.
I dare you to try writing a Psalm of your own tomorrow morning.
And hey! If it goes better than you thought, I dare you to try it again.
A Psalm Writing Exercise:
Sometimes the easiest way to start writing your own Psalms is to take one that’s already written and turn it into a kind of mad lib, adding in your own struggles and joys where the Psalmist has placed theirs. It’s a cool way to acknowledge and explore your particular place in God’s story.
I wrote my own below to share with and hopefully inspire you to pick a few Psalms and do the same for yourself. Include whichever Psalms you want. Title them whatever you want. But let them each be a genuine reflection of your heart.
Here’s the original Psalm I chose (taken from the NRSV):
The Divine Shepherd
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
Now personalize this poem to your own heart and circumstances. I’ve given you some blank spaces to make the personalization a bit easier, if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for:
A Psalm of _______
1 The Lord is my _______, I shall not ____.
2 He makes me _______________;
he leads me __________;
3 he restores __________.
He leads me _____________
4 Even though I ___________,
I fear no ________;
for you ____________;
5 You prepare a ____________
in the presence of ________;
6 Surely ____________ shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall _____________
my whole life long.
Take the trail less traveled and try writing a few psalms of your own. Write one on Monday and then write one on Friday. See how they compare.
Self-reflection is such an important, daily habit. Especially when it’s combined with prayer.