Category Archives: Body

What is it about poetry?

What is it about poetry that “gets us right there?” It’s National Poetry Month, so I am asking.

Dr. Raphael Campo, a poet and physician at Harvard Medical school, puts it this way: “When we hear rhythmic language and recite poetry, our bodies translate crude sensory data into nuanced knowing — feeling becomes meaning.”

Imagine, a poet-physician arriving at nuanced knowing, the very place where feeling becomes meaning. It seems almost impossible doesn’t it? That our bodies are the translators. But who better than the ones who study the body to heal the body, to interpret the language it begets?

Not just the lub-dub, lub-dub in the rhythm of a heart beating. Surely, its beats per minute indicating healthy or not. Its volume signaling functional or not.

Not just the whoosh in, whoosh out of the respiring lungs. Their filling and emptying is surely essential to the operation of the organism.

Not just the electronic whir of signal transmission of the brain. And not just the regular pulse of blood through the arteries.

Not just and yet I can’t help but think that rhythm recognizes itself. Knows its kin. Tunes in and pays special attention to its own. That the body responds to poetry because the body is poetic. Lyrical. Creation set in motion. Without prompting or instruction, the toddler sways, the child twirls, the partners step toe to toe.

Just so, my soul recognizes and delights in rhythm. But there’s more to the poetic than rhythm. And that’s why it begs us to read it aloud, recite it, hear it spoken or performed. Verbalized, the poetic allows us to both gather the outline and sketch in the details. To give shape to the form and pour in the color. To chew and swallow, taste and smell. To bring it to life.

Just as the mind does for a well-told story. We know it. We feel it. It has meaning for us and uniquely to us. It draws out what is true from within us, and speaks urgently to our “right now.” Because that’s what we bring to it. And blessedly, so blessedly, we can all gather around poetry because there is not just one right answer.

Mind you, not just willy-nilly words will do this. It’s the culled, cultivated, carefully chosen words that settle deep. The true poet uses words and phrases expertly arranged with an ear for rhythm, a sense of style, how one word will relate to the next, and a feeling for how they will settle on their hearers. Though we each receive them in a slightly different way, if we dare to attend without withholding, poetry has the potential to wake up the poetic in us. To shed light in our darkness, to lift burden from our bearing, and to clarify our way into each new day.

We are all poets. Words animated. Sculpted from the raw materials gifted at first light. Honest words if we are brave enough. And so helpful in their moment to get us through our moment.

How does poetry work on us?
as art... it feels

I feel everything.
I feel the loud.
I feel the crush of bodies.
I feel the eyes on me.
I feel the distance between us.
I feel the, no one is talking to me.
I feel the, everyone has a friend but me.
I feel the invisible.
I am invisible.

Let me go.
I'll be going.
I'll show myself out.

Hey, what's your name? 
she called, as I turned to leave.
I'm Deborah.
I want to meet you.

Wendy, I tell her.
I was almost Wendy, she says, 
Until my mother's
mother in law said I couldn't be.

I love the name, Wendy.
I've always wanted to be Wendy.
Wendy suits you.
So glad to meet you.

I feel the quiet.
I feel the smile.
I feel the distance close.
I feel the visible.
I am visible.

Oh, Dear Poetry, you reach in and touch the deepest parts of us. May we be brave enough to endure it and bold enough to believe it so we can proudly proclaim it.

A new heart I give you

A dear friend received a new heart today. Literally

Not a Valentine’s Day heart. Not a sappy, sentimental heart-shaped gift. Neither construction paper cut-out nor “heart”-shaped facsimile, the heart he received was an organ. A life-saving, life-giving organ. This heart is a living, pumping cardiac-muscle of a heart. Sewn into the opening left when they extracted his old heart that wasn’t working well, really it was failing, not strong enough to pump life support to his body that was still young and strong and virile.

Yes, today God replaced his old heart of (nearly) stone with a heart of flesh, and it is beating in his chest right now. Receiving blood, pumping blood, delivering blood continuously, obediently, constantly to all the places in his body that were desperate for it.

Just twenty-four hours ago, this heart was perfectly happy to beat in someone else’s chest. To receive, pump and deliver blood there. What of this? What of these? What of him?

Why must someone die so another might live?

I cannot fathom this. Cannot explain this. Certainly cannot condone this. Yet.

Yet, one man of old did just such a thing. Died, giving Himself up for us. This is my body, for you. This is my blood, for you. This, I will give you. This is what you need. This will give you life.

Day by day, we’re offered a new heart, signed by God. A heart offered without price, save what was paid on the cross.

There for us when we need it. Before we know we need it.

This is no Valentine’s cut-out and no slobbering sentimentality. This is God’s own heart, work horse of our effort, unsung hero of our inner workings, grinding out our days supplying the lifeforce of our very being.

Day in and day out.

Awake and Asleep.

Conscious and unconscious.

Constant

Persistent

Resilient

So reliable, we don’t even remember it in our prayers.

So trustworthy, we don’t even think to question its methods.

So diligent, we don’t even begin to doubt its lastingness.

Yet.

Yet, sometimes when we cry out for a new heart, God complies. Our heart of stone is replaced by a heart of flesh, rock of ages past, usurped by flesh and blood. Gift given. Gift received.

And in gratitude, we pray: May the heart of Christ fill the space left behind. May the soul of Christ occupy this void. May the mind of Christ show the way to this generous spirit whose life ended too soon and yet. And yet.

There is life. And in its name, in His name, we rejoice.

When the weak become strong we win

Play to your strengths, we say, because that’s how you win.

It’ll win you games, earn you accolades, get you noticed, selected and promoted. And if you can get your opponent to play to your strengths, then you’re golden.

Temporarily. Because favoriting tends to make us lopsided. Have you noticed this, too? When I play to my strong side, my weak side gets left out. Over time, as my strengths get stronger my weaknesses get worse and I have limited my own arsenal. Pretty soon, so my opponent doesn’t discover my weaknesses, I learn to hide them or disguise them in order to diminish their impact.

Unfortunately, the lopsided condition and our self-imposed limitations also leave us prone to injury. Inevitably, we sprain, strain, twist, tear, break or full-on dislocate something. If we’re lucky, after taking time off or perhaps spending some time in repair and/or rehab, we make a come back.

Except now there are left-overs, losses we hope aren’t permanent. Things just don’t feel the same and our bodies know it. They do what they’re used to doing; they compensate. The strong side picks up the slack while the weak side tags along for the ride. It has to — because it’s attached (!) — usually at the expense of form and function, always at the expense of full performance.

Yep. Going with whatever works rather than working on what’s holding us back limits us in the long run. Eventually, there’ll be a painful tip to our stride that’ll only get worse with time. Unless…

… we switch our loyalties and favor our weak side. Humbling though that is. As far behind as that makes us fall. As uncoordinated as that makes us feel. It requires more effort, more intention, more dedication, more practice. It may make us feel like a beginner all over again, but it’ll pay off in the long run because we’re gonna need every part of this whole miraculous body of ours to power us to life’s finish line.

What a race we could run if we stopped playing only to our strengths and gave our weaker parts the respect they deserve. What good advice we’ve been given:

Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. .. God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 

from 1 Corinthians 12: 22-25
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