A few weeks ago an acquaintance sent me a newly published book of her poems. They were simple but beautiful in their first-person expression of praise, love, and gratitude to God—a collection of modern psalms. I reacted to that book like I have to other similar ones, asking myself, why don’t I write more overtly spiritual poetry? I ask because writing about spiritual subjects is hard for me to do.
I’m not sure why. It may be because I fear using theological jargon and worn-out phrases, thus slipping into cliché. (It certainly does take thought and attention to relate spiritual experiences and express convictions and emotions with fresh language that avoids being trite, maudlin, or sentimental.) Or I might avoid that kind of writing because many of my convictions don’t fit the politically correct social climate of the day and so the poems come whiny or like a rant.
As I look over the overtly spiritual poetry I have written, I feel that the poems that have come to me the most easily and naturally are the persona poems. In these I’ve tried to get into the head space of a Bible character.
Preparation to write these got me studying characters in the Bible and imagining their thoughts and feelings as they faced specific circumstances. I often fictionalized how that moment was a catalyst to growth in faith or rejection of it.
Several years ago I wrote a collection of these based on Bible women. Here are two from that collection.
(Based on Exodus 15:19-21)
Though I lived under the bright
Egyptian sun these many years
my sky went black the day Moses left.
Even his return with snake-rod
didn’t banish the clouds
hovering on my horizon.
my celebration when we crossed
out of Goshen into the wilderness.
Dust of approaching chariots
was my nightmare
entering the day.
But somewhere on that black
step-by-step sea crossing
I walked through fear to faith.
I taught Moses to sing.
Now he gives that gift back to me
Hand me my timbrel!
© 2018 by Violet Nesdoly (All rights reserved)
(Based on Ruth 1:1-14)
I am too young
to give in to death
be numbed by Naomi’s
Mighty Yahweh has failed
this family, my man.
Here’s my chance to detach
from this unlucky clan.
So I’ll return to Moab
to make a new start
(despite this strange yearning
deep in my heart).
© 2018 by Violet Nesdoly (All rights reserved)
If you’re like me and find writing poems about spiritual subjects a challenge, maybe writing persona poems could become a spiritual poetry portal for you too.
Thanks to Carol Varsalona, who suggested the subject of Poetry as spiritual practice of the heart, and who is hosting Spiritual Journey First Thursday today at her blog Beyond Literacy Link.
April 5, 2018 at 7:36 am
Violet, I never thought of writing persona poems from the Bible characters’ points of view. I like what you shared today, especially this line: “on that black/step-by-step sea crossing/I walked through fear. to faith.” I think that is what most faith-filled life travelers so for without faith the crossing is treacherous. I would love to see your journaling art for these passages.
April 5, 2018 at 4:49 pm
Thank you, Carol. I really enjoyed moodling on this subject after you introduced it. I posted a Bible journaling doodle I did on the Red Sea crossing to Instagram today and tagged you so maybe you’ll find it. I love your challenge to journal something on Orpah. Will let you know if that happens. 🙂
April 5, 2018 at 11:12 am
I love this idea Violet. What do you think about writing a book of these poems? Wouldn’t they be a unique gift, maybe a Mothers’ Day present for church moms? I think you should do it!
April 5, 2018 at 5:05 pm
Thank you, Donna! I hadn’t thought of putting my Bible women persona poems together in a small collection. Thanks for the idea.
April 5, 2018 at 11:43 am
I love the pic you included. Is it your own creation? Your words “walking through fear to faith,” resonate with me. Our faith journeys always require moving from fear to faith, and not just once, but over and over again.
April 5, 2018 at 5:06 pm
Thanks, Ramona, and Oops! I should have credited the photo. It’s from Pixabay. (I’ll add a photo credit.) And you’re so right—we move from fear to faith many times. Perhaps it gets easier as we gain trust in our Guide?
April 5, 2018 at 2:54 pm
Hi, sweet friend. I have missed you and your lovely words. I feel much the same when I think about writing overtly spiritual poems. I don’t have many in my repertoire. I love the way you have inhabited these two women. Yes, Miriam must have walked from fear to faith. And don’t we all have that same strange yearning Orpah expressed? Thank you for these today.
April 5, 2018 at 4:56 pm
Thank you, Dori! Miriam and Orpah are two women I find fascinating. Are you familiar with the poetry of Tania Runyan? She has put together a collection of Bible women poems that I think you’d enjoy: A Thousand Vessels (2011 – WordFarm).
April 5, 2018 at 3:00 pm
Years ago I wrote a story from Miriam’s point of view. I’ve always loved her for her bravery. You captured her in your persona poem. I love the idea of writing poems like these about the women in the Bible. A close friend of mine wrote songs and performs them in a performance called The Women at The Well. These voices get hidden. We need to bring them to life today.
April 5, 2018 at 5:00 pm
Thanks, Margaret! I’d love to read your story. Are you familiar with the writing of Angela Hunt? She has written a novel called The Shadow Women, that tells the story of Moses from the perspective of the three main women in his life: Miriam, the Egyptian princess, and his wife Zipporah. (It’s not recent—2002—but available as an ebook from the mighty Amazon).
April 5, 2018 at 4:31 pm
Wonderful persona poems! Thank you for sharing them! Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com
April 5, 2018 at 6:03 pm
April 5, 2018 at 5:04 pm
I love your persona poems, Violet. I often ponder Bible stories from a character’s point of view. As I read your two poems, I thought of Francine Rivers’ “Lineage of Grace” books. Have you read them?
April 5, 2018 at 5:51 pm
Thanks, Alice! I don’t know if I’ve read that particular series by Francine Rivers, but I have read some by her. Another writer of biblical fiction that I enjoy is Angela Hunt.
(By the way, Alice, I tried commenting on your blog post but somehow couldn’t figure out how to do it. Sorry about that. I really enjoyed the rich spread of story, poetry and song lyrics you laid out for us. Beautiful!)
April 5, 2018 at 7:17 pm
They are novelettes about the 5 women in Jesus’ lineage. Historical fiction. Thank you. I had forgotten to turn on comments, but realized it after you came by. I’d love it if you could come by again and leave one.
April 6, 2018 at 5:46 am
Ah, that’s the Francine Rivers’ collection you’re referring to. No, I don’t think I have read it.
(Did you know that I’ve written a biblical fiction? I fictionalized the story of Bezalel, the artisan who crafted the tabernacle accessories, taking him from a craft shop in Egypt to the foot of Mount Sinai, in a story about the exodus. It came out in 2012, titled Destiny’s Hands. You can read about it here: https://violetnesdoly.com/destinys-hands/ )
April 6, 2018 at 6:34 pm
I didn’t know that. I will definitely check it out… sounds very interesting, great title. Everything about the exodus has always been a favorite with me … so many truths that fit into my life.
April 6, 2018 at 5:06 am
Violet, these are wonderful! I can see you in these personas; you’ve made these Bible women REAL. If it were to be a book, it would need to have a unique twist/purpose. Bible Women Who …? Some theme within the theme… I think it has legs! Would love to hear more… and would love to READ more. Thank you! xo
April 6, 2018 at 5:36 am
Thank you, Irene! I like your idea of a twist or theme needed for such a collection. That’s great food for thought. I’ll certainly let you know if anything comes of it. (Maybe even ask you to be a beta reader 🙂 )