Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Process Thinking & Human Living: An Online Seminar for Exploration and Inspiration

Process Thinking & Human Living:
An Online Seminar for Exploration and Inspiration
Premiered Oct 25, 2022

~  Charts & Outlines by Sheri Kling from the Center of Process Studies  ~
found further below

In this 3-hour, online seminar, speakers from Process & Faith, a program of the Center for Process Studies of Claremont School of Theology explore aspects of process thought that make a positive difference in human life and in the life of the earth

This seminar was a collaboration of Process & Faith in the U.S., the Network of Spiritual Progressives – Australia, and the Centre for Interfaith Understanding in Singapore. It is co-sponsored by the Center for Process Studies and the Cobb Institute.

Network of Spiritual Progressives: https://spiritualprogressives.org
Centre for Interfaith Understanding: https://cifusg.wordpress.com
Center for Process Studies: https://www.ctr4process.org
Cobb Institute: https://cobb.institute



Andrew M. Davis, Ph.D., is Program Director for the Center for Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology. A native of northern California, he was born and raised among the towering redwoods of Occidental and the meandering woodlands of Santa Rosa’s Bennett Valley. It was out of these natural settings that his passion for the questions of philosophy, theology and religion first emerged. He holds B.A. in Philosophy and Theology, an M.A. in Interreligious Studies, and a Ph.D. in Religion and Process Philosophy from Claremont School of Theology. He was recently nominated and elected as a fellow for the International Society of Science and Religion (ISSR). He is a poet, aphorist and author or editor of several books including Mind, Value, and Cosmos: On the Relational Nature of Ultimacy (nominated for the ISSR 2022 Book Prize). Follow his work: https://www.andrewmdavis.info

Bruce Epperly, Ph.D., has spent over forty years in the varied vocations of seminary and university professor, university chaplain, congregational pastor, and seminary administrator. He is the author of over sixty books in theology, spirituality, health and healing, scripture, politics, and ministerial excellence and wellbeing, including The Elephant is Running: Process and Open and Relational Theologies and Religious Pluralism; Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God; Mystics in Action: Twelve Saints for Today; Prophetic Healing: Howard Thurman’s Vision of Contemplative Activism; and Francis of Assisi: From Privilege to Activism. His comments for this event are inspired by his Process Theology and Politics. Follow his work: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/livinga...

Patricia Adams Farmer, M.Div., M.A., M.Ed., is a process theologian, writer, and minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She is the author of Embracing a Beautiful God, Fat Soul: A Philosophy of S-I-Z-E, Replanting Ourselves in Beauty (edited with Jay McDaniel), Beauty and Process Theology: A Journey of Transformation, and two theological novels: The Metaphor Maker and Fat Soul Fridays. While serving a small congregation in Fulton, Missouri, she enjoys playing classical guitar, restoring her historical home, and spending time with her husband, Ron Farmer, and their ginger cat, Alfie. Follow her work: https://patriciaadamsfarmer.com

Sheri D. Kling, Ph.D., is the director of Process and Faith (Center for Process Studies of Claremont School of Theology) and the John Cobb Legacy Fund. She is also a writer, teacher, and constructive theologian who integrates the process-relational philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and the analytical psychology of C. G. Jung for psycho-spiritual wholeness. She is a faculty member of the Haden Institute, the author of A Process Spirituality: Christian and Transreligious Resources for Transformation and Finding Home: Rural Reflections on the Journey to Wholeness and editor or contributor to several other texts. Sheri lives with her dog Bobby and her cat, Chelsea, in Bradenton, Florida, where she enjoys Gulf breezes and local wildlife. Follow her work: https://www.sherikling.com


Process & Faith is a multi-faith network for relational spirituality and the common good.


00:00 Welcome – Richard Livingston
02:20 Opening remarks – Adis Duderija
05:32 Introduction – Sheri Kling
13:03 Patricia Adams Farmer — Beauty in Troubled Times
40:03 Andrew Davis – Ideas in Process
1:19:15 Bruce Epperly – Healing Politics
1:52:42 Sheri Kling – Wholeness & Transformation
2:22:45 Closing Q&A

Charts & Outlines by Sheri Kling
from the Center of Process Studies


Diana Butler Bass:
American Saints in a Cynical Age
To join the open online Lenten class head over to www.EmptyAltars.com

We live in iconoclastic times. All around us, saints and heroes are being knocked off or taken down from public altars. It seems that nearly everyone we once admired or held in esteem has failed us. We’ve stripped the altars of both state and church. America’s spiritual landscape is now marked by empty altars everywhere.

Taking down statues is nothing new, especially in Christian history. Cynicism and anger at failed institutions and flawed heroes is nothing new. But human beings rarely leave altars empty very long — there’s almost a pressing need to re-sanctify the geographies we inhabit. People always put statues back up.

But of who? And to commemorate what? How do we move ahead with new saints and a less troublesome iconography? What “saints” can inspire us to address the hurts of our hearts, the brokenness of our communities, and the pressing issues of our times?

Shouldn’t we just give up on the whole idea of saints anyway? Why bother?

Join Diana and Tripp this Lentas they explore “sainthood” for an American — and global — future. We’ll share stories that need to be told of “saints” you know and those you need to know in a quirky learning journey through American religious history.

Session 1. Empty Altars: Visionaries & Prophets
Homebrewed Christianity w/ Dr. Tripp Fuller
& Dr. Diana Butler Bass
Streamed live on Feb 29, 2023

Session 2. Empty Altars: Artists & Innovators
Homebrewed Christianity w/ Dr. Tripp Fuller
& Dr. Diana Butler Bass
Streamed live on Mar 6, 2023

Session 3. Empty Altars: Mystics & Utopians
Homebrewed Christianity w/ Dr. Tripp Fuller
& Dr. Diana Butler Bass
Streamed live on Mar 13, 2023

Session 4. Empty Altars: Questioners & Thinkers
Homebrewed Christianity w/ Dr. Tripp Fuller
& Dr. Diana Butler Bass
Streamed live on Mar 20, 2023

Session 5. Empty Altars: Martyrs
Homebrewed Christianity w/ Dr. Tripp Fuller
& Dr. Diana Butler Bass
Streamed live on Mar 27, 2023

Welcome to the Post-Christian Century:
Diana Butler Bass & Bill Leonard in conversation
(Preview Podcast)
Homebrewed Christianity w/ Dr. Tripp Fuller
& Dr. Diana Butler Bass
Streamed live on Apr 3, 2023

Previous Episodes with Diana & Tripp

Diana Butler Bass
Public Scholar of American Religion

Dr. Bass is an award-winning author, popular speaker, inspiring preacher, and one of America’s most trusted commentators on religion and contemporary spirituality. She is the author of ten books, including her most recent, Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence. Diana’s passion is sharing great ideas to change lives and the world – a passion that ranges from informing the public about spiritual trends, challenging conventional narratives about religious practice, entering the fray of social media with spiritual wisdom and smart theology, and writing books to help readers see themselves, their place in history, and God differently. You can connect with her on Twitter or by subscribing to her popular newsletter, The Cottage.

Tripp Fuller
Homebrewed Christianity

Tripp just moved back to North Carolina after three years as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Theology & Science at the University of Edinburgh. He recently released Divine Self-Investment: a Constructive Open and Relational Christology, the first book in the Studies in Open and Relational Theology series. For over 14 years Tripp has been doing the Homebrewed Christianity podcast (think on-demand internet radio) where he interviews different scholars about their work so you can get nerdy in traffic, on the treadmill, or doing the dishes. Last year it had over 4 million downloads. It also inspired a book series with Fortress Press called the Homebrewed Christianity Guides to... topics like God, Jesus, Spirit, Church History, etc. Tripp is a very committed and (some of his friends think overly ) engaged Lakers fan and takes Star Wars and Lord of the Rings very seriously.

210 Sacred Poems - Compiled by Jay McDaniel

Photo by Jorge Salvador on Unsplash

210 Sacred Poems

by Jay McDaniel
December 2020

"Reading sacred poetry is a time-honored spiritual practice. If you'd like to incorporate it into your devotions, we have many resources at Spirituality & Practice for you."

​Thus write Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat in the world's most inclusive interfaith resource center, the website Spirituality and Practice. Every April for the last seven years, during National Poetry Month in the United States, they have offered thirty poems for interfaith readers. I have compiled the poems into one list of 210 poems, with links to their site for each poem. Enjoy.

  1. The Sun Never Says by Hafiz
  2. One Song by Rumi
  3. Metamorphosis by May Sarton
  4. Attachment by Vasant Lad
  5. Questions by Ghalib
  6. Ryokan and Mary Lou Kownacki
  7. Hum by Mary Oliver
  8. All That Is Joy by Rabindranath Tagore
  9. My Joy by Rabi'a
  10. Haiku by Buson and Issa
  11. Ecstatic Poems by Kabir
  12. Beauty and Ugliness by Lao Tzu
  13. Waging Peace by Sarah Klassan
  14. The Same Inside by Anna Swir
  15. Tears by Svein Myreng
  16. That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection by Gerard Manley Hopkins
  17. There Is No Road by Antonio Machado
  18. Don't Make Lists by Dorothy Walters
  19. Aware by Denise Levertov
  20. 1979 by Wendell Berry
  21. I Like You by Kevin Anderson
  22. Roll Call by William Stafford
  23. Stone by Charles Simic
  24. For What Binds Us by Jane Hirshfield
  25. Love after Love by Derek Walcott
  26. Healing by Joseph Bruchac
  27. Ars Poetica by Blaga Dimitrova
  28. Earth Verse by Gary Snyder
  29. The Good News by Thich Nhat Hanh
  30. Hold on to April by Jesse Stuart
  31. Trees Can Be Our Teachers by Satish Kumar
  32. Live With the Spirit by Jessica Powers
  33. Sixty-Four by Daniel Skatch-Mills
  34. Open the Window by Rumi
  35. Fern-Leafed Beech by Moyra Caldecott
  36. Wild Things by Wendell Berry
  37. Three Poems on Presence by Baisao
  38. Miracles by Daniel Berrigan
  39. Butterflies by Siegfried Sassoon
  40. Living by Denise Levertov
  41. Goodnight by Carl Sandberg
  42. Two Prayers on Grace by James Vanden Bosch
  43. What Is the Greatest Gift? by Mary Oliver
  44. Three Poems on Hope
  45. Not Enemies by Stephen Levine
  46. Olive Trees by Marilyn Chandler McEntyr
  47. Split the Sack by Rumi
  48. The Earth Is Waiting For You by Thich Nhat Hanh
  49. Surviving Has Made Me Crazy by Mark Nepo
  50. On Forgiveness by Karyn Kedar
  51. Morning Has Broken by Eleanor Farjeon
  52. Rendition of Psalm 41 by Nan Merrill
  53. Welcome Morning by Anne Sexton
  54. Love Poems by Susan Landon, Ann Reisfeld Boutte, and Susan R. Norton
  55. First Night by Julia Ackerman
  56. An Atom of Love by Yunus Emre
  57. Dear Diary by Leonard Cohen
  58. Freedom to Marry by Barbara Hamilton-Holway
  59. Four Sufi Poems
  60. Icon by Mary Rose O'Reilley
  61. Ecstasy by Hayden Carruth
  62. Love Sonnet by Pablo Neruda
  63. The Layers by Stanley Kunitz
  64. Let Evening Come by Jane Kenyon
  65. The Answering Machine by Linda Pastan
  66. Soil by Richard H. Goodman
  67. Zero Circle by Rumi
  68. The True Nature of Your Beloved by Hafiz
  69. Sweet Darkness by David Whyte
  70. Gift by Czeslaw Milosz
  71. A poem by Mirabai
  72. A poem by Lalla
  73. A poem by St. Catherine of Siena
  74. A poem by Meister Eckhart
  75. Against Certainty by Jane Hirshfield
  76. Serenity Is Not by Katherine Swarts
  77. Oneness by Thich Nhat Hanh
  78. A poem by William Stafford
  79. A poem by Mary de La Valette
  80. A Place to Sit by Kabir
  81. Living in Hope by Suzanne C. Cole
  82. A poem by Jim Cohn
  83. Who Knows What Is Going On? by Juan Ramon Jimenez
  84. The Guardian Angel by Rolf Jacobsen
  85. It Is That Dream by Olav H. Haug
  86. Questions by Peter Dixon
  87. Have You Not Heard His Silent Steps? by Rabindranath Tagore
  88. God's Name by Tukaram
  89. Sometimes by Hermann Hesse
  90. There You Are by Rumi
  91. Earth, Sister Earth by Dom Helder Camara
  92. The Way They Held Each Other by Mira
  93. A Cushion for Your Head by Hafiz
  94. Annunciation by Marie Howe
  95. Just Stop by Baba Afdal Kashani
  96. That Passeth All Understanding by Denise Levertov
  97. Summing Up by Claribel Alegria
  98. After the Sea by John O'Donohue
  99. The First Book by Rabindranath Tagore
  100. The Clay Jug by Kabir
  101. White Apples by Donald Hall
  102. In the World by Brigid Lowry
  103. A poem on Love by Kabir
  104. Remember by Joy Harjo
  105. Nothing Much by Allison Harris
  106. A poem on silence by Baisao
  107. Peonies at Dusk by Jane Kenyon
  108. Reasons to Meditate by Lisa Cullen
  109. The First Book by Rita Dove
  110. A poem on abundance by St. Catherine of Siena
  111. Soil by Richard H. Goodwin
  112. Seeking Your Trace by Fakhr al-Din Iraqi
  113. Vision by May Thielgaard Watts
  114. A poem on devotion by Mary Lou Kownacki
  115. A poem on kindness by Margaret Jain
  116. A poem on transformation by Hugh Robert Orr
  117. What Does Light Talk About? by St. Thomas Aquinas
  118. Love Is by May Swenson
  119. Leisure by W. D. Davies
  120. Gift by Czeslaw Milosz
  121. The Old Elm Tree by the River by Wendell Berry
  122. Love at First Sight by Wislawa Szymborska
  123. Never Lose the Way by Shihab al-Din Yahya Suhrawardi
  124. Living the Scriptures by Lalla of India
  125. So Much Happiness by Naomi Shihab Nye
  126. There Is a Wonderful Game by Hafiz
  127. Poetry by Pablo Neruda
  128. On Ordinary Daily Affairs by Layman P'ang
  129. A Kiss by Deborah Garrison
  130. Is My Soul Asleep? by Antonio Machado
  131. On Mother Earth by Jamie Sams
  132. When Your Life Looks Back by Jane Hirshfield
  133. Memory by Jorge Luis Borges
  134. Ask Me by William Stafford
  135. Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks by Jane Kenyon
  136. A poem - prayer about love and life by Kuan Tao-sheng
  137. A poem-prayer for solidarity and justice by Arthur Waskow
  138. Growing older with beauty by Robert Terry Weston
  139. A Lover Who Wants His Lovers Near by Rabia
  140. God Would Kneel Down by St. Francis of Assisi
  141. How Then Can We Argue? by Meister Eckhart
  142. Each Soul Completes Me by Hafiz
  143. This Place of Abundance by St. Catherine of Siena
  144. First He Looked Confused by Tukaram
  145. Ode to My Socks by Pablo Neruda
  146. Summing Up by Claribel Alegria
  147. If You Have Nothing by Jessica Powers
  148. Paper Cranes by Thomas Merton
  149. God Paints the Rainbows by Barb Laski
  150. A poem about wisdom by Makeda, Queen of Sheba
  151. In a Holy Book I Have by Hafiz
  152. Little Things by Sharon Olds
  153. Joy by Robert Morneau
  154. The Road to God by Melannie Svoboda
  155. A poem by Henry Van Dyke
  156. Chilean Creed by James Conlon
  157. A poem by Edward Searl
  158. A poem by Judith Billings
  159. The Inner History of a Day by John O'Donohue
  160. A Marriage, an Elegy by Wendell Berry
  161. The Book of Endings by Sam Taylor
  162. A poem by Hildegard of Bingen
  163. Marriage by Susan R. Norton
  164. A poem by St. John of the Cross
  165. A poem by J. David Scheyer
  166. My Life by Billy Collins
  167. The Foot-Washing by A. R. Ammons
  168. Simon the Cyrenian Speaks by Countee Cullen
  169. Early Lynching by Carl Sandburg
  170. Easter Night by Alice Meynell
  171. Throw Yourself Like Seed by Miguel de Unamuno
  172. The Madness of Love by Hadewijch of Antwerp
  173. Human Wisdom by Charles Peguy
  174. The Gift by Zoraida Rivera Morales
  175. A poem by Ly Ngoc Keiu
  176. Passing Through by Stanley Kunitz
  177. From Recovery by Rabindranath Tagore
  178. A poem by Novalis
  179. Diving by A E I Falconer
  180. Was it Light? by Theodore Roethke
  181. The Journey of the Mind by Anya Dunaif
  182. Looking West by Sofiy Inck
  183. What Is a Hero? by Nimai Agarwal
  184. The Word by Swastika Jajoo
  185. After I Die by Niti Majethia
  186. True… Or Not? By Swastika Jajoo
  187. I See The Night by Maya Mesh
  188. Sowing Hope by Tammata Murthy
  189. Ever Deeper: A Poem for My Grandfather by Will Hodgkinson
  190. Blue by Victoria Krylova
  191. Pure Love by Gertie-Pearl Zwick-Schachter
  192. When the Universe Sings Goodnight by Niti Majethia
  193. Plastic Tractors by Will Hodgkinson
  194. Perfume Bottles by Fareeha Shah
  195. Rift into Childhood by Gracie Griffin
  196. When the Sun by Charlotte Rauner
  197. The Playground in Winter by Maria Christian
  198. The Soul of Nature by Niti Majethia
  199. Not Yet by Caie Kelley
  200. Artemis by Alice Simmons
  201. The Divine Vision by Tanmaya Murthy
  202. Backyard Woods by Isabel Bautista
  203. The Pear Tree by Caroline Harris
  204. I always feel like myself by Pie Rasor
  205. Volunteer by Rafik Maharja
  206. With a Pencil in My Hand by Gracie Griffin
  207. The Sunset of My Life by Meenu ravi
  208. The Watching One by Lucia O'Corozine
  209. Selected Poems from Around the World by Mary Ernesi, Tanika Stewart, and Odelia
  210. Snowflakes Carry My Worries Away by Katie Champlin

Why Read?

In the clatter and clamor of our lives, we need ways to connect deeply with our souls. Whenever we feel depleted, our favorite poets invariably refresh and refuel us. The quality of their attention, the way they notice things we easily overlook, summons the joy and wonder within us. Their songs of both praise and lament speak the words it is sometimes hard for us to articulate. They put us in the presence of the ineffable and the holy. We drop our jaws and swallow our pride...Businessman James Autry captures another attraction of poetry — it "gives you permission to feel." The best poets tap into our deepest yearnings.

- Mary Ann and Frederic Brussat, Spirituality and Practice

What makes a poem sacred?

A poem is sacred if, after reading it or listening to it, you are just a little wiser and kinder, more creative and playful, more attuned to beauty and shocked by injustice, than you would have been otherwise. The poem makes a difference in how you think and live.

The poem need not be religious in order to be sacred. It does not have to be about God or heavenly ecstasy, or use words like holy and sacred and spiritual. Yes, it can have such themes. It can be obviously religious. But it can also be about ordinary life, about cars and dogs and sidewalks, about whole or broken relationships, about sadness and beauty and moonlight, about planets and tulips and cat's eyes.

Sacredness is a relationship between you and the poem. It lies in how you read the poem and in the fruits of your reading. Here are some of the best fruits of sacred reading, borrowed from Spirituality and Practice.

These fruits are practical and ordinary. The sacred becomes fully sacred only when its values are expressed in daily life: at home and in the workplace, among neighbors and strangers, in the parking lot and the schoolyard, in the voting booth and community center. The purpose of sacred poetry is to help you live wisely and compassionately, with love and vitality, in the world beyond poetry. As it achieves its purpose, it simultaneously refreshes and refuels your soul. It gives you permission to feel.

- Jay McDaniel, December 2020

Reading Fragments of Poems
​as a Spiritual Practice

Recently some friends of mine started an online poetry journal called Heron Tree. It offers you one poem a week - absolutely free.

As I write this, the poem for the week is Onion Pie by Joey Nicolletti. It begins like this:

The wind, the rattling wall, dinner
baking in the oven, the dead of winter
a string of salt diamonds
alight in a street of slush and starlit ice,
and the cat retires
to his feathery bed.

It is wintertime. I picture my own cat named Zooey, retiring to her own feathery bed. I think of how delicious it would be to have some onion pie. I picture the street outside, which had not long ago been salted with crystals. I remember the diamonds.

I may not read any further. I know that Joey Nicolletti hopes I will. After all, he wrote the poem as an organic whole, with each part related to the other parts. In her now classic The Life of Poetry (1949) Muriel Rukeyser speaks of poems as organic wholes full of movement, which grow like trees. She is famous for saying that the universe is like stories, not atoms. For her a poem is a story, too.

But sometimes I think it's fine just to nibble at a poem, taking a line or series of lines that somehow nourish the imagination and not even completing it. If it's worth reading at all, it's worth reading halfway.

The western religious traditions have a tradition called lectio divina or sacred reading. When you read in a sacred way, you are not looking for rules to live by or ideas to master. You are looking for nourishment of the soul. You take in images from scripture, however fragmentary, and simply rest in them trusting that somehow, in the very resting, some divine nourishment is received. You let the images wash over you and inside you, in a kind of baptism of the imagination.

I need these baptisms. I need one poem a week. I need some onion pie to sink my imagination into, taking a break from the compulsively busy lifestyle into which I so often fall. Buddhists tell us that paying attention to the world around us and the worlds within us in a mindful way is the heart of spirituality. Poetry can help - even if you nibble.


I choose the word nibbling with care. Reading poetry is a physical activity even as it is a spiritual activity. Even if we read silently, we hear our own voice reading inside our heads. We pause at the end of lines and between stanzas, not unlike the way in which we pause when we take a breath. Sometimes we quietly move our lips, too, in a subtle and unconscious way. And sometimes we read out loud. Some people draw sharp distinctions between reading out loud and reading silently. Not me.

As we read we bring our bodies with us. We are sitting or walking, standing or lying down. We are looking with our eyes. The founder of process philosophy, Alfred North Whitehead, says that all of our experiences begin with what he calls the withness of the body. Our bodies are not simply means by which we take our minds from one location to another; they are where the world meets us, including the world of poetry. As we read a poem our minds may be lost in a faraway land, but our bodies are here, with us, in the reading.

Imaginative Nibbling

Of course our imaginations are in the reading, too. Our imaginations enable us to move from one portion of the text to another, not unlike the way in which we might eat fruit salad. When you have a bowl of fruit salad in front of you, you choose the particular fruit -- bananas, strawberries, pineapple-- that strikes your fancy.

I think we can read poems like this, too. By this I mean two things. We do not need to read the whole poem if we are nourished by a part. We can stay with that part, and call it a night.

And even if we do read the whole poem, there is no need to read it in a linear fashion. We can jump from one section to another and then go back, not unlike the way in which we jump from one poem to another in an anthology, flipping back and forth. Call it non-linear nibbling.

Many contemporary poems are conducive to imaginative nibbling. They are a collage of lines which can be strung together in a linear order, forming an organic whole; but they can also be enjoyed in a non-linear way as a collage of fragments which can be seen as a whole but also have independent integrity.

Many sacred scriptures have this quality. Consider the Holy Qur'an. It is a collage of many different poems, and poems within poems, and poems within poems within poems. It is not a rule book, it is a cluster of warnings and invitations, helping us awaken to the unity -- the tawhid - within which we live and move and have our being. Some suras are warnings and some are invitations, but all are inviting us to experience awe and wonder.

Many poems are like mini-Qur'ans. This means that as you read them you can move from beginning to end; but you can also move from middle to beginning or from end to middle. And you can just stay on one or two lines if you are so inclined. You can begin in the middle, where all beginnings begin.

Beginning in the Middle

Think of how people read the Bible. There is no commandment in the Bible which says: "Thou shalt never begin in the middle." Jews and Christians begin in the middle all the time, turning to this book and that book within the good book. And for process thinkers, influenced by Whitehead, there may even be some divine sanction in it. According to process theology, the universe is without beginning or end. God does not create out of nothing but rather out of the pre-existing chaos at hand. This means that even the Holy One began in the middle when he or she began creating our universe. The chaos already existed. The Holy was just giving it a little order. If God can begin in the middle, we can, too. Let the winds of the spirit blow where they will.

For my part, when I begin in the middle, I always look for sentences that do not begin with "The." There is far too much declaration in the world today. Too many attempts to tidy things up, when there's so much beauty in the untidy. Too many ideologies of heart and mind. Buddhists teach us that there is a lot of spirituality in not having fixed views.

Kissed by Steam

There is a Zen rock garden in Kyoto that's designed so that, wherever you stand, you cannot see the whole. You see sand and the rocks, but no possibility for a controlling overview. All good poems are like this. Even if they come across as organic wholes, there's no final interpretation. Freedom from finality of statement is one of poetry's greatest gifts to humanity.

This is why it can be important -- even spiritually enlightened -- to focus on fragments. You are reminding yourself that even if you read the poem as a whole, this whole is nested in a larger whole -- the forever fluid rock garden of the universe -- which is never fully encompassed by any finite observer. Heidegger reminds us that we are always already inside this whole, and that we can never stand outside it and pretend that we are mere spectators.

When a simple line or phrase in the middle of a poem becomes the subject of your attention, you are aware of an immediate textual background that you don't know and comprehend. You are deciding not to know this background, at least for the moment.

This deciding not to know the whole is an act of faith. It is faith that there can be meaning in the particular which transcends the meaning of the whole, even as there is meaning in the whole which transcends the meaning of the particular. Here are the last two lines of Joey Nicolletti's poem:

my wife pulls the Onion Pie
out of the oven, kissed by steam.

Blake reminds us to see heaven in a wildflower and the universe in a grain of sand.

Onion Pie reminds us that there's more than a little divine steam when you take an onion pie out of the oven on a cold, cold day.

Maybe that is one of the purposes of poetry at its best. Maybe it helps us become kissed by the steam.

​- Jay McDaniel, December 2020

Photo by Ricardo Espejo Catalán on Unsplash