We live in a time where each of us will be asked to reach deeper, speak more bravely, live more from the fierce perspectives of the poetic imagination; find the lines already written inside us: poetry does not take surface political sides, it is always the conversation neither side is having.David Whyte
These words, written in 2016 by the poet David Whyte, resonate with me deeply right now. Poetry is the conversation neither side is having. There is a truth to these words that I believe deeply. It is a truth about poetry, but I believe that it is also a truth about prayer.
Prayer, like poetry, does not take surface political sides, and it is also the conversation neither side is having, because it is the conversation all sides are invited to have with the Other, with God our Creator. We can pray for each other. We can pray with each other. But we can’t pray to each other. Prayer is not a conversation we have with each other, but with God. When we pray, we are not talking to each other. We are talking to, and listening to, God. Prayer, true prayer, takes us away from the echo chambers in which we currently live, to a place where there is no echo, where there is only God, initiating a conversation and awaiting our response.
I believe that our world today needs a new conversation. We need a third way. The two ways that we typically fall into are leading us nowhere. They lead us to these polarized cul-de-sacs where we drive round and round and don’t see anyone other than reflections of ourselves. Where will this new conversation come from? It has historically come from the mystics, the poets, and the prophets, those who have been freed from the constraints of culture and thus enabled to have a conversation that neither side (and aren’t there always two sides?) is having.
Have you ever noticed how the great mystics, poets, and prophets seem to be claimed by all sides? The biblical prophets and others are quoted and claimed by differing sides for a simple reason – they are having a conversation neither side is having. They are being drawn to a place neither side wants to go. They are often, if not always, misunderstood, persecuted, and unappreciated. Poets who are not published in their lifetimes, for example; prophets who are martyred for their unpopular stands; mystics who are forced or choose to live in solitude, away from the noise and cul-de-sac debates of our world.
“Theologians may quarrel,” the mystic Meister Eckhart once wrote, “but the mystics of the world speak the same language.” And a mystic, as I understand it, is simply a person of deep and abiding prayer. This is the conversation so dearly needed. It is not the language of theologians, politicians, or, dare I say, preachers? But it is the language that invites us to a deeper place, to a place of true prayer, and that shows us the way forward. It is a language that is best learned through humility, silence, prayer, and God’s word. It is the conversation that Jesus was often having, which confounded the theologians and politicians of his day. And it is the conversation that I believe God is inviting each of us to have right now.
Most of us are not called to be full-time poets, prophets, or mystics. But all of us can engage in these ministries. We can pray. We can look at the world through God’s eyes. We can speak truth to power. So let’s reach deeper, as David Whyte puts it, and “live more from the fierce perspectives of the poetic imagination.” Let’s continue to engage in the conversation that neither side is having. And always as we do this, let us seek to be be guided by prayer and by God’s word.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.Romans 12:2