As I’ve thought about what poetry is this week, I’ve realized that there are parallels to be drawn between poetry and the Incarnation. I’ve been thinking about them all week, but hesitating to draw them, lest you walk away from this post with some sentimentalized notion of Christ as God’s poem to the world or the sacrilegious idea that I have somehow put poetry and the Incarnation on an equal plane. I intend neither of those things.

What do I mean?

I’ve said that poetry is compressed language: large meaning in a small space. In the Incarnation, the whole fullness of God was pleased to dwell in the little space of one human frame. The Word-through-whom-all-things-were-made became flesh.

I’ve also said that poetry is more about experience than about cognition. It’s become a cliche in Christian circles to talk about “relationship rather than religion,” and I don’t like that language very well, but the fact remains that, when we come to Christ, we come to a Person, not merely to an idea.

We’ve all, at one point or other, heard a lot about a person, or read a person’s writings, and formed an idea of what that person is like. And then we meet him or her, and find that reality is quite other than, or larger than, or more complex than, our idea. People are more than ideas; they are more than whole systems of ideas. And Christ is more than a person.

Ideas can be memorized, learned, applied to various situations, combined with other ideas, summarized, paraphrased, filed away into neat mental compartments. People are not so easily handled. To know an idea is to understand it and be able to recall and restate it; to know a person is to invest a great deal of time, to watch, to listen, to watch and listen more, to question, to be surprised, to invest more time: it is, like poetry, more about experience than cognition.

I don’t come to appreciate a poem through one close reading. I learn to appreciate it over multiple readings, finding, with each reading, how different things jump out at me, unpacking, slowly, the compressed meaning, experiencing and savoring it.

This also, in some measure, is the way in which we come to appreciate Christ.


(I’m a bit too cross-eyed and sleepy to unpack it any more tonight. But I hope I’ve shown it to be neither sentimental or sacrilegious.)

©2013 by Stacy Nott



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