When Theology Is Like Poetry



As a young girl I’d imagine what life would be like in a mosque. I wanted to touch a prayer rug, smooth my hands over the knee worn familiar weft and, in holy adoration, bring my petitions before a God who would refuse me—if I didn’t get it right. I wanted to know what it was like to approach the throne five times a day and, every day, dip my body in the ritual and dance of reverence.

My father proclaimed a loyalty to Allah and with it, introduced a mosaic of ideas about what it was like to embrace the call of Islam on his life. But he never took me to a mosque. And I never saw him pray.

Daddy was Muslim and mommy was not. Therein, I suppose, lies the reason I never saw my father’s faith in the rhythm of worship.

It didn’t stop me from wondering.

What I knew about the ritual came from a Muslim man selling incense and oils on the subway platform at the Hoyt Street station in Brooklyn. His daily devotion was a welcomed respite from my hurried pace shuttling between Brooklyn and Harlem and back again. Watching him helped slow me down and satisfied a curiosity about the side of my father I didn’t know.

Faith was something I had to figure out. I needed wisdom and courage to see beyond tradition and labels to the inner working of my parents’ faith. I had to watch and learn. I needed to decipher the unseen, private beliefs that transcended words. Only as an adult can I fully embrace all I’ve been taught from the holy transcribed moments that impacted my faith before I had words to describe them.

Finding God at 21 ushered me into a world of believers. But there were borders and boxes and so many lines drawn; unspoken parameters and edges I longed to look over. It was the kind of faith that left no room for questions. No room for conversations about social justice, or politics. No room for science.

It seemed we were so faithful we forgot the God of beauty and wonder. The God of the unknowing and known. There was only room for religion. The one way or highway kind of church that makes robots out of humans and leaves little room for a dispensation of love come down.

Growing up in God means giving myself permission to explore and experience the gospel beyond the confines of what I’ve been taught. And I’m using the Bible as God-breathed sanction to do so. Living a life of faith means I endorse Jesus and how he works through me. It also means, and maybe more so, that I leave room at the table for others.

Living a life of faith means I allow breathing room for the blessing to empower others. It means that I grant space for how He shows up in you.

This is about freedom to be nimble. To wade, soul deep in a grace that says yes to tolerance and grants a license to love beyond my understanding. This isn’t a hybrid of theological postures. It’s bowing down to the expansive love of Christ.

It extends beyond logic and reason and like poetry, His Word helps me believe the unbelievable. I’m convinced taking this leap opens the door for God to do whatever He wants to. The further I push from the shore the more I find myself awash in this beautiful exchange. Access granted. A heart given, freedom received.

It’s what finds me seated and barefoot in the discipline of a weekly meditation circle. It’s what pushed me—after all these years–to visit a mosque. The communal prayer is a passionate synchronized choreographic offering. I always wondered. Now I know.

It’s a privileged vantage point—to see, like Jesus, beyond the natural. He saw the woman beyond the harlot and the disciple beyond the tax collector. He saw humans beyond our frailties and mistakes and beyond our judgmental stance on anything unlike us. He saw beyond our sin.

If theology is like poetry (and I think it is) then it shouldn’t have to rhyme.

It should be fluid and, like any body of water, just a little bit dangerous.

It’s daring to believe, to redeem even, what’s beautiful in the world through joy and suffering. It’s speaking in tongues, learning a new language, exploring a new vocabulary and reimagining the breadth of a word like love. It’s living in the paradox of simplicity and complexity and moving beyond religion to faith.

And it’s about resting, knowing I could be wrong.

Lord grant me permission to be wrong. Wisdom to invite. A heart that forgives.

Even me, Lord. Even me.


Image credit: Keith Roper