By Steve Krout
The poet Billy Collins has been appearing on Facebook Live to read poetry almost every day since our nation has gone into quarantine. During one of his readings he made this beautiful statement, “The virus is slowing us down to the speed of poetry.” As a lover of poetry, I sat with these words. I believe this slowing down has been greatly beneficial to our society in many ways. Slowing down allows us to spend more time with our own thoughts or to reflect on the words of others. It creates more space for not only reading and listening and watching things, but also time to absorb them. We had been living in a world of noise and distraction and consumption. Slowing down taught us how to be with ourselves and others. We’ve been more mindful of where and how we get our food and those that labor to supply it. We have also been more mindful to purchase small and locally as much as possible instead of from gigantic corporations. We’ve sung to each other from balconies, driven in car parades, and created amazing art to comfort neighbors near and far. We’ve found new appreciation for the spaces we worship in and the people we worship with.
I couldn’t help but take Billy Collins words further – the virus is slowing us down to the speed of God. After all, isn’t God the Great Poet? Poetry flows through the Holy Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. One cannot tell the story of God and God’s people without the use of poetry. And, at the center of this story, there is a strange and beautiful mystery: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. One has to look no further than the Beatitudes and the Our Father to notice a poetic structure in the way that Christ taught. When Jesus taught, he was not only telling people how to live, but also providing comfort and healing through poetic words.
Poetry has the ability to provide healing. Right now, our nation is wounded. Our country has never fully dealt with the wounds of racism, slavery, and our bloody beginnings. And these wounds continue to widen and deepen before our very eyes. We, as human beings, are hurting in so many ways. In this time in our history, the rates for mass shootings, suicides, and overdoses continue to rise and it seems that soon no one will be untouched by one or more of these tragedies. Father Daniel Berrigan wrote in the introduction to his book “Uncommon Prayer: A Book of Psalms”, “The psalms spoke up for soul, for survival; they pled for all, they bonded us when the world would break us like dry bones. They made sense, where ‘facts’ – scientific, political, religious – made only nonsense.” Poets through the ages, from King David to Mary Oliver, have given expression to the whole human experience. They have taken our joys and sorrows and longings and turned them into art. This art not only has the ability to help us heal but to help us become healers.
As our country begins to open back up over the summer, I hope you will join me in continuing to slow down as I share six poems and brief reflections on them for the next three months. The late Palestinian poet and author Mahmoud Darwish once said, “Poetry and beauty are always making peace. When you read something beautiful you find coexistence; it breaks down walls.” We are all children of God and we belong to one another. Let us break down the many walls that divide us and enter into the beautiful together.