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					Poetry is one response to the natural world that we find in the Old Testament. Does that poetry qualify as theology and offer us a model for our poetry, hymn writing and natural theology?

Outline: 1. Introduction 2. Reading Old Testament poetry and its relationship to theology a. The poetic art and Old Testament reading b. Theology and poetry as dance partners 3. Old Testament poetry from the natural world a. Images from the natural world i. Theology from the “Seas”  „Master over chaos‟ ii. Theologies from “Mountain”  „Law-giver‟  „Warrior‟  „Resident of Zion‟ b. The theological impact of Old Testament poetry in context c. The power of cultic poetry over prose d. Yahweh as „Creator‟ e. Some conclusions 4. Contemporary natural theology and the Old Testament 5. Science and metaphor: the context and discourse for a natural theology a. Our scientific context b. Metaphor as common mode of discourse c. Conclusions regarding poetry and hymn writing 6. Towards an Old Testament model for poetry and theology 7. Conclusion

Introduction The Nicene Creed begins, “I believe in God…the poet of heaven and earth,‟ according to Oswald Bayer.1 This poietes, or creative power of God is at the heart of Christian faith. In the Old Testament it is Wisdom through whom this creativity is expressed; of whom the poets were enamoured and theology gave careful concern. That creativity is at the heart of life and faith is a belief which will colour and drive our pursuit of an Old Testament model for contemporary poetry, hymn writing and natural theology. We will begin our study by examining the Old Testament poetry that responds to the natural world, noting with Gerstenberger that „It is clear that cultic poetry pervades all layers of Old Testament literature.‟2 We shall survey these poems, asking what contribution, if any, they make to the theology of their context. At issue here is not just whether these poems are theological, that is, they have been influenced by a particular theology and reflect its sentiments through their verse. The question, instead, is whether they qualify as theology. In other words, do they say something about God that stands up on its own right? We shall then move to examine in what manner our conclusions from the Old Testament might provide a model for our contemporary poetry and hymn writing, using the biblical natural theological method of James Barr as a bridge from its context to ours. Exploring science as a context for theology and metaphor as its most appropriate form we shall conclude by suggesting how poetry and theology might remain creative partners through the use of our Old Testament model. As a preface to our Old Testament survey, however, we need to first briefly explore the nature of Old Testament poetry and to frame its relationship to theology by analogy to a dance.

Reading Old Testament poetry and its relationship to theology It is true of any literature that paraphrase necessarily violates the text at hand. Yet with no genre of writing is this more so than poetry. One can restate Schleiermacher or Barth, or even the Apostle Paul in plainer language, where the author‟s primary goal is the communication of an argument. Poetry, however, is a sacred art; the form of words as fixed as the notes in a Bachian fugue or the strokes of a Botticellian fresco. „The value of a poem as a poem does not consist in the significance of the thoughts it expresses;‟3 its value is in the totality of the experiencing of its power.4 Thus analysis of poetry and its communicable „message‟ is not an exercise in approximation. The form, rhythm and peculiar arrangement of words in any given poem cannot be separated from
1 2

Bayer, „Poetological‟, 154. Gerstenberger, Psalms, 9. Debate over defining biblical poetry: Kugel claims no metric parallelism evident is OT, therefore no poetry. Idea; Alter claims parallelism requires no meter. Art, 1-26, esp. 6; cf.Raphael, „Literature‟, 40-42; Landy: Kugel gives helpful caution – „no absolute dividing line.‟ „Poetics‟, 66-67. 3 Budd, Values, 83. 4 Budd: a poem provides „an experience that cannot be fully characterized independently of the poem itself.‟ Values, 84.

the effect on the listener/reader. In modern parlance, we might say the medium is the message. The poetry of the Old Testament, whose words – intoned or sung – could rise from chilly field or sweaty synagogue, Temple Hill or desert cave, are works of art embraced by a nation and worn through by loving use. That this is so arrests us with two charges. Firstly, our reading of Old Testament poetry should involve a study of socio-historical context. Secondly, whatever our quest for theology here, we should accept, with Obenhaus, that „the Psalms are not theological treatises but liturgical compositions meant for use in worship.‟5 This does not preclude a conclusion that the psalms do qualify as theology. On the contrary, it merely focuses our appreciation of the particular kind of theology they might be by clearly stating what they are not. We should also acknowledge Alter‟s complaint that „one of the many gaps in the understanding of biblical poetry is a failure…to make sufficient distinctions among genres.‟6 Indeed we make this especially clear as it would be easy to relegate our study to the misleading sub-genre of „nature poetry.‟ As Alter asserts, „there is no real nature poetry in Psalms, because there is in the psalmist‟s view no independent realm of nature.‟7 This of course applies to the whole Old Testament; „nature‟ being an entirely modern invention. Theology, in contrast to poetry, is not, in essence, an art, though of course our question seeks to probe its limits. „Theology‟ as a discipline has evolved over many centuries, often at the behest of the powerful; always as doxology in the mouths of the devout. Recognising this and our tentative claims at best to any definition of the term, we might succeed by framing our question with the help of a metaphor: If poetry and theology were partners in a dance, who would take the lead, and will this change with different steps? For if poetry leads theology, then the dance is a poetic one and theology must embrace poetry in order to keep up. If the dance is theological, however, poetry may be a partner, but its concerns may step on theology‟s toes, and he may abandon her for a more suitable partner!8

Old Testament poetry from the natural world Throughout the array of Old Testament poetry we see two primary thematic natural images that return with regularity. The first of these is the sea, or „waters‟. In the symbolic worldview of the Ancient Near East the sea represents chaos and the unsettling forces found at work in the world. Mesopotamian creation mythology has Marduk slay Tiamat, the sea-god of chaos, and out of her create the world.9 In Ugaritic mythology Baal conquers Yam, god of the sea.10 And in Israelite lore, Yahweh, whose
5 6

Obenhaus, „Creation‟, 134. Alter, Art, ix. 7 Alter, Art, 117. 8 These gender labels are used quite deliberately recognising that Judeo-Christian Theology has historically been almost exclusively the domain of men. 9 „Epic of Creation‟ Tablets IV – V, in Dalley, Myths, 249-260. 10 „Baal and Yam‟, esp. 2 iv, in Gibson, Canaanite, 43-35.

wind „swept over the face of the waters,‟ (Gen 1:2) creates earth by separating, and thus, by implication, conquering, the waters (Gen 1:6-10). The archetypal Song of the Sea in Exodus 15 reflects back on Yahweh‟s creative power over chaos, represented by the Egyptian enemy. „At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up, the floods stood up in a heap; the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea…The enemy said…”I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.” You blew with your wind, the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters‟ (Exod 15:8-10). This divine control by Yahweh to manipulate the seas from final adversary to safe-house and advocate is proof of his reliability as Israel‟s Suzerain protector. Not only has he triumphed over the Pharaoh whose oppressive malice brought such chaotic disequilibrium to the Israelites, he has done so using the supreme force of chaos known to their world. The control of Yahweh over the seas is used as a metaphor for his dominion over the forces of chaos, both national and personal, in several psalms.11 To quote Craigie on Psalm 46, „The very worst manifestation of chaos is merely a threat, for the Creator has mastered chaos.‟12 In this regard, poetry about Yahweh and the chaotic seas is theology for Israel.13 The second thematic image to dominate Israelite poetry is the mountain. Sinai and the theophanic lightening-storm, fire and earthquake that accompanied the giving of the Law (Exod 19:16-18) is the primary scene conjured to mind when Israel thinks of mountain, so prevailing is its presence. Thus poetry can easily use „mountain‟ as metaphor for a reference to the Law. This is seen in Psalm 97 where the language of Sinaitic theophany is used to set the scene for as assertion of Yahweh over other gods, and an encouragement to „those who hate evil‟ (v.10). Here the natural image of „mountain‟ has become intrinsically linked to a mountain, which in turn conjures a whole framework of associative ideas. Craigie notes that the language of the Sinai theophany had „become a fundamental manner of expressing God‟s preparation for warfare in the early Hebrew poetic tradition.‟14 He cites Psalm 83 as an example using vv.13-15 which refers to a winnowing „wind‟ and petitions, „as the fire sets the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with your tempest.‟15 It is in this evolution of Sinaitic imagery that we can see poetry‟s dance with theology. On the one hand poetry lends theology its powerful imagination for images to invest with meaning. On the other, Israel‟s theology informs its poetry such that the art reflects its evolving concerns; in these war poems we see those as a movement from prioritising observation of Torah to concern with military conquest. In a theological move, therefore, „mountain‟ shifts Yahweh metaphorically from „Lawgiver‟ to „Warrior.‟ Psalm 68 uses mountain as metaphorical points on a theological (and geographical) map, to provide justification for celebrating Jerusalem as the true home of Yahweh. For
11 12

18, 24, 33, 46, 65, 74, 77, 89, 104, 107, 114, 135, 136. Craigie, Psalms, 346. 13 Schökel suggests that in Psalm 42-43 water is used in a paradoxical manner; „the poet who desperately seeks water, finds it, but it is not life-giving water – it is destructive…God, who was to have been the life of the psalmist, has become his death.‟ „Psalm‟, 7. This example highlights the theological complexity of even the most dominant metaphors from the natural world. 14 Craigie, Psalms, 174. 15 See also Ps.144:1,5-6.

Israelite theology, where geography is extremely significant, this use of Mountain by the psalmist is the very root of his theological argument. „Yahweh, long associated with Sinai, is not confined to that mountain and has now changed the place of his abode to another mountain…Sinai has been moved to Zion.‟16 As long as Yahweh is believed to specifically reside in a particular location, defining where is a primary theological issue, not least as justification for where to build his temple. Thus this psalmist‟s use of „mountain‟ represents an important work of theology. Whilst there are broad thematic images such as these, to simply paint Old Testament poetry as a monolithic usage of set metaphors would be misleading. This is not least a facet of the varied context of each poem‟s common use. Psalm 37 relates the struggle of the oppressed „righteous‟, whose reaction to the „wicked‟ should be to wait for Yahweh‟s vindication (v.34). According to Gerstenberger this psalm is most probably from a local post-exilic synagogue context.17 Here natural imagery is employed to emphasise the short-lived impact of the evil (v.1, „wrongdoers…will soon fade like the grass‟) and the clear aim of the singing community (v.6, „He will make…the justice of your cause like the noonday.‟) This social context of mid-level religious organisation and clear tension with other sections of Israelite society makes the theological emphasis nuanced from the likely form of use in a Temple context. In the latter, with its strong connections to national leadership, the meaning of the images and concepts used would likely change to a wider international level. In other words, it makes sense to suggest that for a Temple singer, the „withering grass‟ could be Persia or Greece, whereas for the rural synagogue singer it could be oppressive Jewish authorities. For a nation whose theology was tied up so intrinsically with national identity, there is no ubiquitous „oppressor‟ a la modern Marxist terms; these two interpretations carry significantly different theological effects. The former suggests the preservation of the People of God as a nation; the latter, a people of God within the People of Israel, defined by their righteous behaviour. We cannot therefore say that poetry that responds to the natural world qualifies as theology per se, as if Israelite theology is something fixed and homogenous. But we can say that this poetry could well serve as theology in its context. The context, however, would strongly affect its theological impact. In the expression of Israelite theology there are three factors which display the superior power of this poetry as a literary form. The first is the illiteracy of the general population. Writers, therefore, would „favour written texts that could be proclaimed aloud rhetorically if they were addressed to the general public.‟18 The concise construct of poetry would enable it to be remembered far easier than rambling prose.19 The second is expressed by Derren Brown, popular master of mnemonic devices, who asserts „memory‟s tendency to store vivid images much better than dry information.‟20
16 17

Tate, Psalms, 181. Gerstenberger, Psalms, 159-160. 18 Boadt, „Poetry‟, 10. 19 This is perhaps evidenced in Dan 2. Prinsloo suggests that the poem of vv.20-23 is located in the narrative such that it „becomes the focal point…The poetry catches the attention of the reader and exactly there the author reveals the thrust of the narrative.‟ „Poems‟, 100. 20 Brown, Tricks, 77.

This is part of poetry‟s power; its highly visual imagery enabling faster and fuller recall. Indeed, returning to Psalm 97 and the Sinaitic theophany, it is specifically the use of poetry, as opposed to prose, which allows the psalmist to create so vivid a picture and thereby achieve maximum emotional effect. We might suggest that this poetic language is the means by which to heighten the speaker‟s (and listener‟s) sense of awe and respect for Yahweh, and thus, by extension, his ways. The same is true for Job. Regarding the Voice from the Whirlwind, Alter states, „Through this pushing of poetic expression toward its own upper limits, the concluding speech helps us see the panorama of creation, as perhaps we could do only through poetry, with the eyes of God.‟21 This God‟s-eye-view is central to the poet‟s theology: that Yahweh as Creator does not have to answer to anybody. Yet of all the reasons to acknowledge the power of poetry over prose, the third, and primary, is surely their context: worship. In the setting of personal and communal devotion or plea, when the emotional engagement of the worshipper is heightened and their commitment to Yahweh heartfelt, the power of highly visual theology to inspire, express, inform and cajole is surely unrivalled. Finally, the most significant and evocative association in poetic response to the natural world is that of Yahweh as „Creator‟. This of course is a theological statement in its own right and it comes not just from one „image‟, such as the seas or a mountain, but from the whole scope of the world, from the heavens to the depths. There are several passages of poetry that speak explicitly of Yahweh‟s creative activity. 22 But more than that, Yahweh‟s identity as Creator is assumed throughout. „We must recognise, however, that the great liturgical rhetoric of creation was sponsored by the great royal regimes, which easily co-opted the evocative theological assertions of created order for their specific political accomplishments and interests.23 Brueggemann demonstrates this is relation to Psalm 89; „the guarantees given by God to the house of David come easily with the celebration of the goodness and reliability of Yahweh‟s created order.‟24 Thus the theology of such psalms are, as Obenhaus puts it, „a warrant for maintaining a certain social order.‟25 It is clear from these examples that poetry responding to the natural world was well able to function as theology for Israel. This theology employed the imagery and experience of the natural world to assert various metaphorical images for God. We might identify these as „Master over chaos,‟ „Law-giver,‟ „Warrior‟ and „Resident of Zion,‟ amongst others. We have also identified that this poetry was capable of theology that could legitimise or undermine boundaries in the service of socio-religious concerns. The poetry‟s assertion of Yahweh as Creator, however, presents us with an interesting issue. Is this clear theological position derived from experience of the natural world? Or does it colour all poetry through its presupposed existence. Is this poetry theology, or is it simply theological, to use our earlier distinction? This subtle question is the perfect launch-pad into our discussion of contemporary natural theology.
21 22

Alter, Art, 87. Job 4:17, 9:5-10, 10:8, 26:7-13, 28:25-26, 36:3,27-31, 38:4-39:40, 40:15-41:34; Ps.8:3, 24:2, 33:6-9, 65:6-7, 74:13-17, 77:69, 89:11, 90:2, 93:1, 95:4-5, 96:5, 102:25, 104:2-30, 119:90-91, 121:2, 136:5-9, 139:13-16, 147:8-9; Isa.40:26,28, 45:11-12,18; Jer.1:5; Amos 5:8, 9:5-6. 23 Brueggemann, Theology, 149. 24 Brueggemann, Theology, 149. 25 Obenhaus, „Creation‟, 137.

Contemporary Natural Theology and the Old Testament „Traditionally,‟ according to Barr, „“natural theology” has commonly meant…that “by nature,” that is, just by being human beings, men and women have a certain degree of knowledge of God and awareness of him,‟26 and he argues that it features as a clear reality within the biblical witness. This biblical natural theology does not „offer philosophical proofs of the existence of God,‟ does not „work by means of pure reason‟ and does not „appear to amount to the total system of classical theism or anything like it,‟ things previously associated strongly with the discipline;27 instead it lies „in religion and the history of conflicts and developments within religion.‟28 Witness Barr‟s treatment of Psalm 104, from our perspective a poem perhaps fuller than any other with a menagerie of images from the natural world: „It seems to be arguable that the utterances that look to us like “delight in the physical universe” are often expressions of delight at the way the physical universe functions as a theatre for religion.‟29 Far from providing any kind of justification of belief in God, the psalm „starts throughout from God;‟ he is presupposed all along.30 It is not the „presence of new information that is not otherwise known‟ that makes this psalm natural theology; „it is rather a matter of new insight into matter that is already „naturally‟ known and familiar.‟31 We have already shown that the poetry of the Old Testament that responds to the natural world does in large part indeed function legitimately as theology in its context. This theology is primarily „natural‟ as per Barr‟s definition, in that it does not bring theological concepts ex nihilo, but responds to the assumptions of its time with creative imagination. To be more specific, the interaction of Yahweh with the symbolic seas and mountains are examples of natural theology in their context; the references to Yahweh as „Creator‟ are more ambiguous as there was within their time no concept of a world un-„made‟.32 Significantly, „the poetic medium made it possible to articulate the emotional freight, the moral consequences, the altered perceptions of the world that flowed from this monotheistic belief (italics mine).‟33 The Old Testament provides a clear mandate for a contemporary creative natural theology, articulated through poetry, the development of which we shall now pursue.

Science and Metaphor: the context and discourse for a natural theology
26 27

Barr, Natural, 1. Barr, Natural, 138. 28 Barr, Natural, 174. 29 Barr, Natural, 82. 30 Barr, Natural, 82. 31 Barr, Natural, 83. Barr cites the Egyptian „Hymn to the Aten‟ in relation to Psalm 104 as an example of a clear reworking of religious imagery and ideas. Barr Natural, 84. The clear parallel use of the Nile (104:10-13) and the power of the sun-disc to provide life for all (contra Yahweh‟s power to give life, 104:14-23, 27-30) mean that a „correspondence…between the hymn to the Aten and Ps 104 cannot be denied.‟ Allen, Psalms, 29-30. 32 It is clear from a cursory look at the poems that speak theologically of Yahweh as Creator that his identity as such is most often used a priori as a basis to justify other claims. 33 Alter, Art, 113.

A feature of the disjuncture between the ancient world of the Old Testament and our post-Enlightenment hiatus is the revolutionary impact of Science. It is true of course that humankind has been progressing its technology and understanding of the stars before even the age of the Israelites. A fundamental shift, however, has occurred in the material sensibility of our modern universe. „We do not think in symbols in the way our forebears did. That is to say, we do not see the things of this world as standing for something else; they are simply what they are.‟34 This radical shift in our understanding of the world led Barr to assert that if we were to claim that „the place of natural theology in Christianity has something to do with its relation to science, then we must be clear that this position rests upon modern philosophical and dogmatic foundations and is not one that can claim biblical support.‟35 This causes us some difficulties since our mandate for a natural theology has been demonstrated from the Old Testament. We must accept, however, that whatever impetus we derive from these ancient writings in the field of natural theology, our mode of discourse will be fundamentally changed. That is to say that while the Israelites articulated their theology in an ostensibly religious context, and thus used religious language and imagery to express their theological creativity, the context to which we belong is ostensibly scientific and must thus be navigated using the modes of discourse of the scientific worldview.36 That does not mean that we should limit our language to what has already been stated by the scientific fields, rather we must find a way to express theology in dialogue with the imagery and the metaphysical assumptions of the modern scientific world, of which the constant and ongoing search for explanation is central.37 It is here that we turn to metaphor as a linguistic vehicle capable of carrying us into this difficult terrain. Metaphor, contends Umberto Eco, „consists in the fact that, taken literally, [it] would appear false or weird, or nonsensical.‟38 This is important for us when constructing a metaphor within a world dictated by the assumptions of science. By of way of example we may consider James Lovelock‟s Gaia theory. Gaia is the name for the Greek goddess of the Earth. Lovelock developed a complex scientific theory of Planet Earth as a living organism, capable of self-regulation over vast periods of time and with primary commitment to her „core organs.‟39 His decision to name the theory, or, more specifically, the reality of the planet‟s activity, „Gaia‟, is an attempt to communicate the consciousness, or, in Lovelock‟s words, the „collective intelligence,‟40 of life on Earth. Of course, the belief that the earth is actually, in material terms, a goddess, is absurd. Gaia is, in this case, a metaphor.

34 35

McFague, Metaphorical, 5. Barr, Natural, 181. 36 „Scientific‟ is meant in the broadest possible sense. 37 The term „modern‟ here is in the general sense of most contemporary. Modern mechanistic theories have been superseded by the complex advancements of Quantum Physics, in which „we find stress on relativity, the importance of relations, and process.‟ McFague, Metaphorical, 78. 38 Eco, Literature, 143. 39 Lovelock, Gaia, 119. 40 Lovelock, Gaia, 137.

The relationship between metaphor and reality is, however, complex. „Metaphor, even in its most poetic forms, typically exhibits both continuity and discontinuity with ordinary language and thought. Its world of meaning is a world in dialogue, being neither “wholly other” nor wholly familiar.‟41 As McFague says, a metaphorical statement „always contains the whisper, “it is and it is not.”‟42 That a metaphor taken literally in its entirety would appear nonsense does not mean a metaphor has no correspondence to reality. Quite the contrary; for Lovelock, the Earth as goddess highlights a crucial theme: that humans are not the stewards of the planet; they are subject to a higher power. This is precisely the function of metaphor: to imaginatively reach for what cannot be fully expressed or understood in literal terms. Thus metaphor is a most appropriate tool for Science – Lovelock‟s theory demonstrating this - as it is indeed for Theology, which always needs to reach beyond itself.43 And this is where we see the need for poetry, whose „elliptical style…which means it may leave out as much as it includes, also gives room to play and resists finality, completion, and closure at every point.‟44 It is here that we may suggest some conclusions regarding Old Testament poetry as a „model‟ for our contemporary poetry and hymn writing. If we accept that Old Testament poetry does serve as a model for a natural theology which speaks imaginatively into the primary concerns of its day; and if we may conclude that these concerns for our day are those of science and our ability to examine and imagine the relative behavioural modes of the universe, in all its particularities; and if we are confident that the linguistic tool of metaphor is the best placed to creatively form this imaginative speech; then it is surely true that our poetry and our hymn writing will become the primary theological media by which we attempt such a feat, more adept are they than any other form of language at carrying the complexity of metaphor.45 To what specifically should our poetry and hymn writing speak? We may offer some tentative thoughts. But it should be averred that they not be the concerns of the Old Testament poets. From a Christian perspective God is not confined to a single mountain, he is not the author of war; neither is he couched in theophanic elemental extremes or master and suppressor of chaos, at least not in the manner of the Old Testament worldview. Indeed, on this latter point, whilst Yahweh is ultimately „above‟ the world of disorder; in Jesus, God succumbs to chaos, to the point of death. The resurrection of Jesus, we might then argue, represents a theological paradigm shift from concern with the establishment of order to a prioritisation of re-creation through new life. McFague claims it was the shift to an evolutionary understanding of the origins of the universe that paved the way for the quantum world we now inhabit.46 But as Annie

41 42

Brown, „Transfiguration‟, 44. McFague, Metaphorical, 13. 43 McFague quotes Max Planck who discovered quantum theory: „the pioneer scientists must have “a vivid imagination, for new ideas are not generated by deduction, but by artistically creative imagination.” Metaphorical, 75. 44 Miller, „Poetry‟, 311. 45 Midgley: poetry „suppl[ies] the language in which our imaginative visions are most immediately articulated.‟ Science, 38. 46 McFague, Metaphorical, 77.

Dillard so bluntly says, „Evolution loves death more than it loves you or me.‟47 This is the sobering fact of our universe, and one which Gaia theory is not slow to claim.48 Says Dillard, „The world has signed a pact with the devil; it had to. It is a covenant to which every thing, even every hydrogen atom, is bound. The terms are clear: if you want to live, you have to die.‟49 As Christians, do we not agree; was this not Jesus‟ theology? (Mk 8:35) That „life‟ in the face of death should be our literary preoccupation is not only theologically compelling, it is scientifically apposite. And this symbolic change from „order‟ to „life‟ is a helpful stimulus as we return to the metaphor of the dance.

Towards an Old Testament model for poetry and theology In the dance between theology and poetry one thing has become clear: theology needs poetry, however much she may tread on his toes! Yet the „order‟ of theology and the „life‟ of poetry often fail to productively cohabit. As a metaphor for ecotheology, Deane-Drummond draws on the Old Testament concept of Wisdom as divine creative personality. She claims „the source of Wisdom is “ecological” and stems from the natural world;‟50 indeed „“Her deeds are described with pictures drawn from nature.”‟51 We have so far justified the Old Testament as a model for our natural theology, and through that, our poetry and our hymn writing. Yet for this model to work it is imperative that our poetry and theology keep in step. It is Wisdom – inspired by the natural world – who „offers a reminder of the means by which the poetic and rational can come together. The tendency to systematize in purely rational schemes can lead to a loss in the poetic quality of wisdom, which is also fundamental to creation itself.‟52 Wisdom, therefore, may be the unifying metaphor that we need; her head full of intellectual clarity and her heart bursting with creative life. For Christian hymnody, often either dry but intellectual, or emotional but content-sparse, this approach could be new life-blood. That the world – even in all its grand particularities if we believe Lovelock – is alive makes poetry our future and our voice; its inspiration the creative dialectic of Old Testament Wisdom. The reality is, as with dance floors all over the world, that it is not who knows the moves that counts, but who‟s moves most emphatically captivate. That theology may dance with bestructured poise is beside the point when poetry‟s body twirls, flows and shimmies with such evocative abandon. Ultimately, life is a poet‟s dance and theology, far from being in a position to judge worthy associates, must learn the poetic steps if it is not to be left alone at the bar.

Conclusion

47 48

Dillard, Pilgrim, 171. As Lovelock says, „although another Ice Age might be a disaster for us, it would be a relatively minor affair for Gaia.‟ Gaia, 139. 49 Dillard, Pilgrim, 176. 50 Deane-Drummond, „Sophia‟, 25, quoting John Carmody. 51 Elizabeth Moltmann-Wendel, in Deane-Drummond, „Sophia‟, 20. 52 Deane-Drummond, „Sophia‟, 28.

We have shown that the poetry of the Old Testament that responds to the natural world does indeed qualify as theology and, inasmuch as it reflects an imaginative engagement with its context – a natural theology – provides a model for contemporary poetry and hymn writing. The challenge for our time is the new context of science and we have argued that metaphor, of which poetry and hymn are master, will provide the linguistic capability to speak potently and creatively into this world. To achieve this, poetry and theology must come together – religious language changing from preoccupation with „order‟ to exploration of „life‟ – through poetry leading theology in a dance characterised by the unifying creativity of Wisdom, a poet inspired by the natural world.

Bibliography Allen, Leslie C., Psalms 101 – 150, Waco: Word, 1983. Alter, Robert, The Art of Biblical Poetry, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1990. Barr, James, Biblical Faith and Natural Theology, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Bayer, Oswald, „Poetological Theology: New Horizons for Systematic Theology‟, International Journal of Systematic Theology, 1 (July 1999) 153-167. Boadt, Lawrence, „The Poetry of Prophetic Persuasion: Preserving the Prophet‟s Persona‟, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 59 (1997) 1-21. Brown, Derren, Tricks of the Mind, London: Channel 4, 2006. Brown, Frank Burch, „Transfiguration: Poetic Metaphor and Theological Reflection‟, Journal of Religion, 62 (Jan 1982) 39-56. Brueggemann, Walter, Theology of the Old Testament, Augsburg: Fortress, 1997. Budd, Malcolm, Values of Art: Pictures, Poetry and Music, London: Penguin, 1995. Chryssides, George D., „Meaning, Metaphor and Meta-Theology‟, Scottish Journal of Theology, 38 (1985) 145-153. Craigie, Peter C., Psalms 1 – 50, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004. Dalley, Stephanie, Myths from Mesopotamia, Oxford: OUP, 2000. Deane-Drummomd, Celia, „Sophia: The Feminine Face of God as a Metaphor for an Ecotheology‟, Feminist Theology, 16 (S 1997) 11-31. Dillard, Annie, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in Three By Annie Dillard, New York: HarperCollins, 2001. Eco, Umberto, On Literature, London: Secker & Warburg, 2005. Gerstenberger, Erhard S., Psalms: Part 1, with an introduction to Cultic Poetry, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1991. Gibson, J. C. L., Canaanite Myths and Legends, London: T&T Clark, 2004. Kugel, James, The Idea of Biblical Poetry: Parallelism and Its History, New Haven: Yale University, 1981.

Landy, Francis, „Poetics and Parallelism: Some Comments on James Kugel‟s The Idea of Biblical Poetry‟, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 28 (1984) 61-87. Lovelock, James, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. McFague, Sallie, Metaphorical Theology: Models of God in Religious Language, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982. Midgley, Mary, Science and Poetry, London: Routledge, 2001. Miller, Patrick, „Poetry and Theology‟, Theology Today, 52 (O 1995) 309-312. Obenhaus, Stacy R., „The Creation Faith of the Psalmists‟, Trinity Journal, 21NS (2000) 131-142. Prinsloo, G.T.M., „Two Poems in a Sea of Prose: The Content and Context of Daniel 2:20-23 and 6:27-28‟, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 59 (1993) 93-108. Raphael, Rebecca, „That‟s No Literature, That‟s My Bible: On James Kugel‟s Objections to the Idea of Biblical Poetry‟, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 27.1 (2002) 37-45. Schökel, Luis Alonso, „The Poetic Structure of Psalm 42-43‟, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 1 (1976) 4-11. Tate, Marvin E., Psalms 51 – 100, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990.


				
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