who knows your story? poetry as narrative integration.

September 8, 2012

The past few weeks I’ve been harping on my students about the importance of seeing the context of the larger Story of God in the Scriptures while looking for his work in their own lives.  There are patterns and themes in the Scriptures that reflect the same ones in our own lives and vice versa.  When one of them gets past the blank stares and glassed-over quietness they open up and share honestly their struggles and questions… this is really the part of the job I love!  Someone steps into the fray long enough to vulnerably share a chapter or two of their own story.

Last year I read a fascinating book titled Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising connections between neuroscience and spiritual practices that can transform your life and relationships. by Curt Thompson, M.D.  Here is a snippet that I have found very useful:

“…we can be changed by allowing God’s story to intersect with our 0wn.  When we tell our stories or listen to another person’s story, our left and right modes of processing integrate.  This is why simply reading the Ten Commandments as a list of dos and don’ts has so little efficacy.  The same can be said for Jesus’ admonitions during the Sermon on the Mount or the apostle Paul’s instructions to the early church communities.  Isolating commands for right living apart from their storied context is at best neurologically nonintegrating and, at worst, disintegrating.  This is why telling our stories is so vitally important.

But narratives are not the only instruments within Scripture that can help us integrate our minds and lives.  Poetry is a another powerful literary tool.  It has several distinct features:

  • By activating our sense of rhythm, poetry  accesses our right-mode operations and systems.
  • Reading poetry has the effect of catching us off guard.  Our imaginations are invigorated when our usual linear expectations of prose (that one word will follow obediently behind another on the way to a predictable end) don’t apply.  This can stimulate buried emotional states and layers of memory.
  • Finally, poetry not only appeals to right-mode processing, but to left mode as well, given its use of language.  This makes it a powerful integrative tool.”

It’s no wonder then that poetry, as a literary genre, is so commonplace throughout the Scriptures.  Our lives are being written, our stories are being told, and we make much better sense of our these stories as we know the Grand One of redemption.  Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus and said “we are his workmanship,” the “poema” in the Greek… we are the “poema” or poem of God.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
 For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light do we see light. 

Psalm 36:7-9

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