Poetry and Preachers
August 9, 2011
Dominican preaching flows from the studied pursuit of wisdom and the orchestrated repose of contemplation. With the friar’s life accordingly organized, his otherwise mundane endeavors of observation and speech increase in spiritual attunement. More and more, he desires to see all things clearly and deeply, and he is better disposed to speak authentically of God’s provident mercy. As we read in the Book of Proverbs, “the wise of heart is called a man of discernment, and pleasant speech increases persuasiveness” (8.1).
Hence, it comes as no surprise to find many preachers captivated by the mysteries of poetry, as exampled in the original verse of a Providence College professor, the literary allusions of an All Saints’ Vigil sermon, or a talk on the cruciform beauty of some insular poets.
Even the American Beat poets from a few decades ago found a Western friar by the name of Brother Antoninus among its ranks.
More recently, Bro. Gabriel Torretta, O.P. has written about the contemplative verve of poetry. As he artfully puts it, “Poetry tries to express an inexpressible aspect of reality by packing it into an impossibly small space so that the meaning of the words fold in on themselves, creating a pattern of layers that begins to resemble the contours of the real object in all of its dynamism. Even for unornamented poems, just reading the words is not enough; poetry offers an encounter with a living reality that the reader must open himself to. Contemplation is the habit of being open to this encounter.”
Indeed, the preacher’s charism itself can be seen as poetic–in its contemplative inspiration as well as in its personal activity. Recall our Holy Father’s testimony at the outsent of his pontificate, “There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised… by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him” (24 April 2005).
Read the rest of Brother’s reflections on how “Christianity and poetry need each other” at First Things, as well as his previous commentary on the christian potential of Philip Larkin, already advertised here.