In the first two posts on Prayer and Creative Writing (cf. Prayer and Creative Writing I and II), the suggested response to scripture was story, the creation of a detailed, descriptive narrative to help the text come alive in us and for us.
Another way of responding to scripture is through poetry – and that’s much easier than some people might have you believe! One way of taking an easy first step into verse is to work with a text that already exists, like we have done before with the story written from the existing bible narrative. And yes, there is plenty of poetry to be found in the bible! There are the psalms, of course (and it’s another interesting suggestion to write your own psalm – some ideas on this have been assembled here).
One poem to be found in the bible is a text you probably have never thought of as poetry:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
This is another discovery I made on retreat – that I can work my way deeply into this prayer by finding my own words to say what each verse means to me today. And in doing so, I bring what is truly in me before God, and I understand better what is moving in me and shaping me in this particular moment.
This is not an “edit” of the text, it’s no literary or theological criticism or anything of the kind. To write prayerfully with this text is one more way of praying this prayer, and of bringing yourself into scripture, of taking time and making an effort to reflect on the text with all that is in you in that particular moment.
I have written many versions of this prayer in the last years, and I always find myself on ‘holy ground’ in the writing that results from this text (I have posted one poem/prayer before: here). Maybe it helps if I explain this with some thoughts on how these words have opened themselves to me in prayerful writing:
The prayer begins, “Our Father in heaven,…”
This is not how I would usually address God in my prayers, and I have stumbled over the word “father” for a long time, struggling to describe a loving and tender and compassionate God with this notion. I don’t perceive God as a father – and I have learned that that’s okay. For me, it would create an obstacle in my relationship with God to say “father”; I would have trouble trusting a “father God” with the truth of my experiences, hopes and needs.
So, for me this prayer could begin, “Jesus,…”, “Grace,…” or “Love, …” These are ways in which my relationship with God is expressed truthfully, intimately and lovingly, creating welcome for God and me to be with each other. One other word a friend of mine taught me is “Sayang” – which is Malay for “darling”. Somehow “Sayang” feels like a loving name I would like to call God by, too. How do I address the one I love most of all? That’s the word I need here.
The prayer continues, “hallowed be your name…”
What does it mean to me to “hallow” God’s name? How does the holiness of God affect me? How can I express this experience? How do I describe my sense of adoration? The awe in me on being in God’s presence? (This is not an easy one…)
You could continue like this, line by line, with your own sense of what God “writes into you”, spending time with how you perceive the meaning and fullness of expression in each word. And if the words of the original text express fully what is in you in words that are fully yours, then let them stand as they are. To have taken the time with each word and to have discovered this is a blessing in exactly the same way as rewriting the text if it would feel more natural and personal in other words. Let the experience be what it is.
So I invite you to try this, either as a reflection on your personal experience, perceptions, and emotions while you write, or as a reflection on a particular scripture reading you have spent time with in your Lectio Divina (or both, of course). Bring what you have found into the text and before God; let the prayer say what is in you right here, right now,as fully and truthfully as is given to you.
To give you an example, this is how I responded to John 9 within the Lord’s Prayer:
I’m on my knees before you, the Christ,
the Son of the Most High.
I yearn to live under your authority,
and to follow your decisions,
for my body, my mind and my spirit.
It is you the poor ask for sustenance,
and to you we come for justice and for mercy.
Open our eyes
so we are not blinded anymore by status and prestige.
Your authority is true,
your power is true,
so it is you I honour,
not just today but for all time.
Lord, I believe.
(You can follow on from here to “Prayer and Creative Writing IV”.)