Poetry has been recognized as the heart language of many cultures of the majority world,1 as well as the language of the human heart in general. By activating the intuitive and affective dimensions of human life, it has the power to evoke human adventures with images and metaphors, and portrays the lived human experience that cross cultural, linguistic, geographic, and historical boundaries. Poetry is not only a form of cultural exegesis, but also a mode of common theology enriching conversations and reflections. When poetry is spiritually impregnated, it becomes a form of doxology, which I regard as the ground of all theology and missiology.
Indeed, poetry is a primary language of love God expresses to the creation: from the poetic exclamation of the goodness of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, to the eschatological outburst of the poetry in Isaiah 65, and finally the renewal of all things in Revelation 21, Christian scripture is filled with poetic language of love and mercy. It equally invites poetic responses by faith. Scholars even argue that poetry virtually dominates the First (Old) Testament “curriculum.”2
In my coming posts, I will share a series of curated bilingual poems with moving images, music, and readings on themes of identity, missio Dei, and sacred space. As they were created in the form of prayers, you are invited to spend some time at the end of each video in silent contemplative reflection and ask what God might be inviting you to explore in greater depth through these videos. My explanation below is in no way meant to confine your own imagination led by the Spirit, but simply to act as a guide for those who want to reflect more deeply or to learn more.
Where Are You Going?
The poem “Where Are You Going?”3 was birthed during a long contemplative walk in a forest. I heard a gentle call from afar as the moist wind breezed softly against my face and the leaves under my feet made a rustling sound in this sanctuary of nature.
The poem begins with an everyday question of intimacy that a parent might ask a child who is about to leave home, echoing a beckoning call from the Creator to humanity since Eden (Genesis 3:9). The relentless “to” somewhere (waterfall, wild field, arctic, desert, ocean, mountain top) carries the eschatological hope that God is always on the move towards the fullness of time for the whole of creation. The motif with distinctive Australian characteristics (a didgeridoo, a “bleeding” desert, kookaburras’ laughter) expresses the contextual beauty of the creation. The last paragraph speaks of the climax of the movement where heaven and earth celebrate with “thousands of acclamations” in the welcoming of the second coming of Christ (cf. Ephesians 1:10). The last line “I will return” alludes to the great reunion where the collective “I” is joined with the great “I AM.” The poem in turn adorns the missio Dei with the beauty of a new rhythm and imagery, thus enriching missiological imagination of human longings and hope.
In the chorus of the whole creation, what does the rhetorical question of the poem invite you to explore? What words, phrases or images have been evoked in your physical, emotional, and spiritual senses? How are you going to participate in the missio Dei in communion with the Creator and the creation?
Where Are You going?
to the waterfall
to pray with the pine
gushing from the depth of the earth
to the wild field
to pick the flowers
putting them on my head as a bride
to the arctic
to touch the lights
fingers brushing through the night
to the desert
to dance between musical scores
of sand waves bleeding in the rhythm of a didgeridoo
to the ocean
to watch thousands of glittering gold
on liquid silk melting away
to the mountaintop
to blow the resounding horn
echoing in the valley of souls
Will you return?
When the kookaburras’ laughter
and the roaring sound of heaven are joined
by thousands of acclamations I will return
Watch for more contemplative poems and videos from Xiaoli Yang in this occasional series, “Poetry as Doxology.”
Editor’s note: This post was updated on March 13, 2023 to include changes from a later version.
- Author’s note: The Global North has been heavily influenced by Greek thought and the Enlightenment; critical reflections and propositions have become the norm. However, in the majority world, including places such as China, Iran, or India, poetry is the heart language, that is poetry is the primary way of communication.
- Craig G. Bartholomew and Ryan P. O’Dowd, Old Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction (Inter-Varsity Press, 2014), 54; William Dyrness, The Facts on the Ground: A Wisdom Theology of Culture (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2021), 96.
- The poem was performed at the 15th International Association of Mission Studies, Sydney Assembly 2022, and published in Mission Studies 39, no. 3 (2022), 446-7.
Image credit: Ed van duijn on Unsplash.
Rev. Dr. Xiaoli Yang is an Australian Chinese theologian, pastor, poet, and spiritual director. She is currently serving as the president of Australian Association of Mission Studies and on the editorial board of Australian Journal of Mission Studies. View Full Bio
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