There is something magical about religious poetry. Let me broaden: the thing that can be most magical about poetry seems almost inherent in religious poetry. Because, I think, poetry is most powerful when it's trying to put into words something ineffable--to tap into experience you hardly knew you had because you didn't have words for it. And this, of course, is also when religion is most powerful--when it gives a physical (verbal, shareable) manifestation to something inexplicable. Religious poetry can speak so deeply to us because religion, in many real ways, is poetry. When high school students wonder why poetry just can't come out and *say* something, I think a legitimate answer could be (if you weren't teaching in a public school) a reference to the parables: Jesus didn't come out and say the messages he was trying to teach because parables leave space for the hearer to learn the lesson they need to learn, to fill in the gaps with their own experience and with new insights. A deeper example of this, even, is mortality: we could've read a list of lessons we were to learn, had to learn, before we got here, but we can't learn them without the hard work of living. Poetry, in a small way--I don't want to get ahead of myself here--functions on the same mechanism. It doesn't tell, it shows, it guides you down a foggy path and asks that you fill in gaps; and, as you fill them in, you are changed, your ideas are added to. When it's done right.
And so, to celebrate Easter and National Poetry Month (I'd never thought how serendipitous the overlap is/can be) a couple of favorite religious poems (some more secular, some less, some I've posted, some I haven't. I think.)
Gerard Manley Hopkins
John 15I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.
These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
My great happiness
is the sound your voice makes
calling to me even in despair; my sorrow
that I cannot answer you
in speech you accept as mine.
You have no faith in your own language.
So you invest
authority in signs
you cannot read with any accuracy.
And yet your voice reaches me always.
And I answer constantly,
my anger passing
as winter passes. My tenderness
should be apparent to you
in the breeze of summer evening
and in the words that become
your own response.