With the recent resurgence of interest in poetry (as reflected in the growing number of writing groups, poetry slams, etc.), the spiritual community is recognizing that poetry opens the heart. For example, in 2015 the Yale Divinity School offered a conference called “Love Bade Me Welcome” that focused on using poetry in retreat work, teaching, preaching, and spiritual development. The energy at the conference was palpable as the attendees mutually mentored one another in the practical benefits of poetry as a tool for reflection.
An amazing tool to be discovered – the time is ripe to bring the ministerial tool of poetry forward for wider use.
Through formal and informal interviews with healthcare professionals about poetry as a useful tool, Kim has found that, increasingly, people are open to and enthusiastic about poetry as a means of starting conversation in pastoral visits.
There are two main reasons for this:
#1 – the rise in popularity of support groups over the past 25 years. The research has consistently shown that support groups have a positive impact on physical and mental healing for many people. Support group leaders that Kim has interviewed have found that carefully chosen poems, which are accessible and brief enough to be discussed in a single session, can often shed light on some aspect of the group’s struggle that may ordinarily be difficult to articulate.
#2 – the increasing number of people who identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” Many physical and mental health issues that involve ongoing struggle ultimately evoke deep questions of meaning. Poetry gives people a way to engage with these questions in a way that is not overtly denominational or theological, but still deeply spiritual.
In both cases, safe and accessible poetry provides an avenue of understanding that can reach those for whom other methods fall short. As Emily Dickinson says, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.” Poetry provides the “slant” that allows one to grapple with and reconcile truths that may be too challenging to confront directly.
In both cases, safe and accessible poetry provides an avenue of understanding that can reach those for whom other methods fall short.
As Emily Dickinson says, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.” Poetry provides the “slant” that allows one to grapple with and reconcile truths that may be too challenging to confront directly.
In one of Kim’s interviews, a healing arts professional at the Cleveland Clinic said that poetry in healthcare is right where art and music therapy were 25 years ago: an amazing tool that is just waiting to be discovered.