Writing ‘prayer-poem-psalms’

Jul 14, 2022 | Devotions and Reflections, INSIGHTS, PRAY

I’m having a go at writing ‘prayer-poem-psalms’ – why don’t you have a go at writing one too?’

After all, as you will have realised, many of the psalms begin with a lament, look back with longing and nostalgia and then turn on a pivot as they catch their breath, so to speak, by ‘remembering’ their faith and what God has done before a final burst of praise and thanksgiving.

Many years ago, a dear friend, Laurie Klein, challenged a workshop to have a go at completing the following phrases.

Lord, why can’t I? . . .

I remember when . . .

Thank You that Your word says . . .

And so, I praise You that . . .

By completing this simple but often surprisingly helpful and revealing exercise you have incorporated many of the key elements that we find in many of the psalms, moving from complaint, through the ‘steadying’ processing that recollection and meditation on the Scriptures bring before reaching the ‘pivot’ point that thanksgiving brings. When they have done that, Laurie tells them that they have effectively written a psalm!

The medieval church taught by means of stained glass window, harnessing creativity into their presentation of the gospel. In these psalms/prayer poems +{Which shall they be?}+, we want to do something along those lines ourselves, to make spiritual insights and theological truths as personal and applicable to our everyday walk with the Lord as we can.

We have done a few along these lines before, and are now beginning a major miniseries on the theme of the Lord’s constancy outweighing (by far!) our fickleness. I put considerable effort into penning this, and we will be releasing it in seven short tracks.

It is sad that parts of the Church regard written prayer as somehow being of less inspiration than that which is spontaneous – whilst other parts still look down on improvised prayer. We are not as good at the ‘both . . . and’ as we should be! Rather as Paul said that he would pray with his mind and his spirit, there is room for both! God clearly regards poetry in prayer as being quite otherwise. The fact that we find God’s words being proclaimed again and again in the writings of the prophets rather than ‘just’ in the ordinary language of everyday prose is a reminder that poetry, like music, impacts hearers and reaches their hearts in deeper ways. For many years now, I have sought to present many of my reflective prayers in this way, combining prayer, poetry and music in the quiet belief that there is something essentially poetic about the very courts of Heaven themselves.

Prayer has been described as

‘the poetry that possesses the body, the kernel of a soul left over when everything else has been immolated. Poems are written for audiences, readers, the poet themselves, but only prayers are written for God.’

For if many of our prayers are childlike or urgent requests that we ‘deliver’ in God’s post box and then leave with confidence for Him to attend to, there are many other kinds that are meant to fill and possess our souls. Petition of itself cannot spare us from every setback in life, or scatter every dark cloud in the world around us. It is all about shaping and finding a way forward in the light of these realities in the presence of God, and seeking His help and guidance. The poems I write view everything as potential subject matter to turn into prayer, seeking to gain His perspective on them, and to invite the Lord to come right in on the action. Their focus is a partial rather than a fully systematic theory, seeking to address specific themes and topics, and to grasp the truths and principles about God Himself and the way He God moves, and then seeking to ‘earth and apply’ them in many ways. They are both an internalising of what is going on within us, and a cry of the heart to the One who feels and share all things with us.

I had no guide to writing prayer poems before I started composing them; I just set out, much as I have done for decades in leading prayer events, but this time on paper rather than with and in front of live congregations. Perhaps some of you may find this simple introduction to the concept a prompt to have a go yourself – or to take your present writings to a deeper level.

You will soon see that the written version of Your constancy is a resource-rich project rather than just the simple prayer poem that we very much hope you will enjoy listening to. Do take time to follow up the links at your leisure! A psalm: His constancy outweighs my fickleness A psalm of Robert the servant of the LORD, a prayer for a heart that is single-minded and free from deceit. To the tune, St Denio, which is based on ‘Can mlynedd i nawr’ (‘A Hundred Years from Now’) and familiar to us in the hymn, ‘Immortal, invisible God only wise.’

Photo by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash

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