A few months ago I was involved in a fascinating work project at the intersection of faith and culture. Part of the study touched on reading habits among American adults today. Most people today, surprise surprise, get their info from the internet instead of books. Much more. And their recreation too. The hours required to read a book can seem almost outlandish to the modern adult. "Reading a book's a big investment," one said.
I spend as much time on the web as anyone and follow the Google rabbit trail where it leads with the best of 'em. Even still, I feel sad for books. Sad for a world where books sit dustily on the shelf, and for the time commitment folks can't spare them. From birth I've been a lover of words, and there's a wistful part of me that wants more for them than the world today is giving them. More sitting with them, relishing them, being moved by them. It's hard to sit with words when they come to you off a computer screen. They can collide with the deep parts of your soul from the screen, but they seem to do so less often.
Books are a pleasure I've maintained pretty continuously throughout my life, but in the past few years I've rediscovered a word-love-affair I'd long ago neglected: poetry. A friend of mine still reads poetry - reads it regularly herself and to her children - and watching her, I got re-inspired. I used to write poetry when I was a kid; I still remember the first couple verses of a poem I wrote about a trash can when I was 8 years old. (A trash can, no less. "Creativity," you might call that?! Mercy.) And I pieced together poems on and off till I was in my early 20's. I memorized a fair number of poems too, for the sheer joy of the words - the way they calmed, inspired, warmed.
But in a world where reading books is a practice that needs intentional maintaining, reading poetry is yet a step further out. It fell off without my being aware of it, and I didn't even notice that slice of richness lost to me after it was gone.
Wading back into poetry has been slow and lovely. It started for me, I think, when I encountered the beauty and intrigue that came in deep lyrics by thinking, theological, talented (!) musicians - our friends Hope and Justin, who became dear to us in our final months in California in 2012. Something came alive in me as I drank in the simple poetry of their songs. Next came Wild Geese and other poems by Mary Oliver, with whom I wasn't acquainted until these years in Virginia. And most recently, my poetry-reading friend has introduced me to John O'Donohue and his beautiful book of blessings. "May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder." Yes. This is what poetry - the quiet that comes with receiving it - is made to do.
So on Sunday - if no other time in the week - I try to take time for words. Read them, write them, sit with them - any of it will do. On the Sabbath, words nourish me - even as the Word Himself nourishes me. (Fitting too, as the Word has made me one who worships through words). I hope, this time, to maintain diligence to keep the door open on poetry. It's a gift I hope not to lose again.