Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Sarah Dianne Jones is curating a series written by our workshop leaders at the 2017 National Gathering. What excites them about the Gathering? What are they looking forward to sharing and discussing during their workshop? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!
by Nancy Arbuthnot
“What do the ordinary things of daily life—water, salt, feet, clothes—have to do with spiritual existence?” This question came unbidden to me one day a few years ago while I was at a writers’ retreat in rural Virginia. I had just completed my poetry translation project, days ahead of schedule (no doubt helped by the hearty, delicious meals prepared for us each breakfast, lunch and dinner time; cozy writing studios nestled into the rolling hills; enforced quiet zones in the residence hall; and the lack of internet and cell phone coverage), and with no other writing projects in mind, I picked up my Bible, propped my feet in the doorway of the cabin, chose a random phrase and gazed out over the bucolic countryside.
So began the meditative poems collected in my book, Spirit Hovering, and my quest to share my spiritual explorations. Over the years, I have led many “Writing the Spirit” workshops with church groups and the homeless and other vulnerable populations. Recently, Gerry Hendershot, another poetry lover and spiritual seeker, teamed up with me to create “Verse and Vision,” an online and real-time program promoting creative uses of poetry in church life. We have posted our first online blogs and presented poetry workshops at our DC-area presbytery meetings and in our churches. In our NEXT Church workshop, we hope to spread the word about ways poetry can stir our spirits and connect us to our spiritual source!
Our workshop focus is two-fold: to read and discuss poems to use in liturgy and spiritual formation, and to write our own poetic meditations based on scripture. Gerry will share resources for using poetry in difficult discussions of life changes (death, divorce) and social justice issues (white privilege, gender identity). He will also introduce choral-speaking of poetry in worship. I will share poems from Spirit Hovering as examples of how to meditate on scripture with a pen. I will leave you with a short poem from my book, inspired by John 6:35: “I am the bread of life”:
Bread breathing through a thousand
bread his father baked
mixing yeast, sugar, flour, water
letting the dough rise
punching it down
the sweet moist aroma
filling the apartment
May I have some? the boy asked
and his father slicing
the still-warm loaf
placed a piece in his hands
What was wanted, asked for
What was asked for, given
Verse and Vision will be offered during workshop block 1 on Monday of the National Gathering.
Nancy Arbuthnot, a teaching elder at Western Presbyterian Church in DC, is professor emerita of English at the United States Naval Academy. In addition to Spirit Hovering, her publications include the English versions of Vietnamese poems in Waves Beyond Waves by Le Pham Le and a chapbook of poems about growing up in a navy family.
After Gerry Hendershot retired from a career in health research, he was led by the Spirit into poetry, learning from craft shops, listening to great poets read at festivals, and spending too much on poetry books. Along the way he began sharing his love of poetry in his faith community—the Church of the Pilgrims in DC, where he is a ruling elder.
Nancy and Gerry’s website is www.verseandvision.org.