Anna Carter Florence on Poetry & Preaching
"Poets are a preacher's closest cousins," began Anna Carter Florence at PRUMC this morning. "Who else believes that words can change the world?"
She went on to describe several ways preaching can learn from poetry, including that poetry gives preachers new ways to talk about what we do and it gives us ways to think about what we bring along to preaching. It helps us to learn new, creative approaches to describe our preaching and to use in our preparation.
Florence also warned against the tendency to "hunt for meaning" in biblical texts, or treating them as problems to be solved. "We needn't frantically search the text for meaning," she said. "And the text is not a battlefield." We engage Scripture to foster and deepen a relationship, not to demand results for a sermon. We need to ask the Bible questions and allow it to ask questions of us. Florence noted, "Confessions under torture never tell us the truth. They just tell us what they think we want to hear." Instead of going to the text with a demand for meaning, approach them in relationship and love.
Lastly, she spent some time with metaphors, of which the Bible and poetry are full. She said, "Effective metaphors are more complicated than we think or expect. They are not servants of logic -- they exceed logic." Metaphors also have side-effects. A particular metaphor for God, like Father, for instance, will yield different results for different people. For some, God as Father is like how Jack traded an old family cow for magical beans -- it takes them to a beautiful, magical place in the sky. For others, it brings a few problems to be aware of, like trying to swim in a lake where non-native Zebra mussels have taken over -- you need to watch out for them. And for still others, the metaphor throws them from their horse -- they can't even stay in the saddle long enough to get anywhere with it; it's just too problematic and tough. Florence encouraged preachers to explore these images for side-effects of metaphors when reading or talking about biblical texts.
Preaching has a great deal to learn from poetry, and poetry is a creative task, just as preaching is. There is much to gain from how poets approach and talk about their work. And, as Florence stated, poetry just might "give us new ways to talk about why we're doing this all in the first place and the courage to do it."