Poetry in Motion

Now in my final unit of CPE on this journey through residency, we are studying Poetry. Yeah, I know, I said the same thing – what does poetry have to do with chaplaincy? But honestly, just a few weeks in and it is my favorite unit of study. I am finding the connection between poetry, life, and of course chaplaincy, profound. Let me explain.

Life is an ongoing story. Even the Bible is a collection of stories – and poetry. Poetry is simply story put to lyric. With poetry less is more. Powerful words and phrases are chosen to best share life experiences and the feelings those experiences evoke. The repetition of the expression of those feelings turns the words to lyric. This beautiful combination can touch the reader’s heart in ways even the writer can never predict or control.

Think about your favorite song, the one that really resonates with you. The words came from the writer’s lived experience; when you heard it, it touched a deep place in you that made it yours. After all, a song is simply lyrics put to music.

Poetry teaches us to translate our struggle, our experience, into language. Once we can articulate it, using the most powerful words that capture the feelings deep inside us, we are set free.

All I can think of is poetry in motion – the fluidity of life’s ups and downs. The expression of our pain and suffering brings redemption and growth. It is what allows us to continue on our journey. Poetry is the story of your life set to the lyric of your struggle. When the subconscious feelings become conscious the end result can be beautiful and graceful in its transforming power, but the way there is often messy.

This year has been a wild ride. Full of learning, self-reflection, and more learning – mostly about myself. There is a method to the madness – and it feels like madness, at times, as I discover feelings I never knew existed because they were buried so deep beneath my own idea of self. Somewhere beneath all of that lurks my true self – the one under all my unhealed trauma, false narratives, and social constructs – just dying to get free.

When the true self is unburdened by the feelings that have held it captive for all those years, it wants to fly. Once those feelings are acknowledged they lose the power to control. That is where the transformation begins. In that process, the soul finds freedom and the soul is changed forever – it can never go back. Like the mattress that lands on your doorstep in the neat little box. Once you open that box you can never put the mattress back inside –it has been changed – and it won’t go back… it can’t go back… it no longer fits.

This is the messy part; it requires self-reflection and that can be hard and painful. Serious self-reflection can reveal things we do not want to admit we must deal with – like anger or jealousy, bitterness or unforgiveness… just to name a few. We all put on some sort of “mask” we want others to see while hiding how we really feel or what we really want or need. Have you ever thought to yourself, “If they really knew me, they wouldn’t like/accept/­­or _____me.”? This mask may feel safe in the moment, but in the long run it will suck the life right out of you.

I know because I am there. I spent years trying to be who everyone else expected me to be – becoming a “people pleaser” in my prideful effort to mask my true feelings. I felt like I was failing miserably most of the time. That is because I was living for everyone else and somewhere beneath, the real me was trapped in the box, just waiting for the seal to be broken, the box to be opened, so I could be free.

Don’t panic, I am still me, only I am learning to find my voice and not worry quite so much about what other people think of me. I have found the freedom to admit that I am not perfect, nor do I have it all together, and to simply live into my authentic self.

The process has been messy – it can be awkward to come face to face with feelings that have been buried for most of your life – but it has given me a new sense of strength, confidence, and joy – well worth the mess.

So now that you have some idea about how poetry has helped me in my quest towards my own healing and wholeness, back to my original question, “what does poetry have to do with chaplaincy?”

Poetry has also become an asset in my chaplaincy as it teaches me to listen for the pain of others. Just like me, my patients all have a story. As I meet them in their moment of crisis they share a small piece of their story with me. I don’t need to ask questions, they will reveal their feelings in the powerful words they choose, I just need to listen. Then, like the repeating chorus of my favorite song, I will hear their heart cry. And I simply meet them there, reverently acknowledging their feelings in the moment, so they too can find a little freedom.

Our life journey becomes poetry in motion when we lean into our pain and struggle, experience it, feel it, express it, and allow it to bring healing instead of destruction.

Read some poetry today. Listen to a song. Find yourself in the story. Let the words evoke feelings. Lean in. Let the healing begin.

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