Poetry articulates the hungers of the human heart

by Renae Bauer
published November 2015

Has this happened to you: you see God’s beauty in creation or hear God’s wisdom in words and you want to savor the moment for as long as possible? Perhaps a poem can help.

According to Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Robert Morneau, poetry is a bountiful garden that can enhance our lives and name the nameless of our common human experience.

“Stories have power to transform our lives. Poems are short stories that narrate aspects of the human journey. By hearing the stories of others we are given fresh possibilities, new alternatives, a sense of hope or despair. Poets are storytellers who sing,” according to Bishop.

The gift of poetry extends into our Christian lives, evidenced by Bishop Morneau’s exhaustive list of poets who have written about Mary, the Trinity, Easter, Christmas, faith, conversion and so on. He says, “Poetry deals with the hungers of the human heart,” a perfect tool for all of us who hunger to know Jesus more intimately.

Before you begin your journey through poems, Bishop has one request: “Poetry is meant to be heard so read aloud."

Three favorite religious poets

  1. Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) – "God’s Grandeur," "Pied Beauty," "The Windhover"
  2. Jessica Powers (1905-1988) – "The Garments of God," "To Live with the Spirit," "The House at Rest"
  3. George Herbert (1592-1633) – "Trinity Sunday" (see below), "Matins," "Love III"
George Herbert’s "Trinity Sunday"

According to Bishop Morneau, this poem summarizes our faith from creation (God) to redemption (Jesus) and sanctification (Holy Spirit), and with a grin Bishop says he could have foregone four years of theology had he known this poem in seminary: “It’s not just a poem but a prayer; in nine lines it tells all of our theology.”

Lord, who hast form’d me out of mud,
And hast redeem’d me through thy blood,
And sanctifi’d me to do good;
Purge all my sins done heretofore:
Fore I confess my heavy score,
And I will strive to sin no more.
Enrich my heart, mouth, hands in me,
With faith, with hope, with charity;
That I may run, rise, rest with thee.

Ten Poets Addressing Religious Themes

 Antonio Machado  Stewardship
 e.e. cummings  Gratitude
 Emily Dickinson   Indwelling
Jane Tyson Clement  Vigil/waiting
R.S. Thomas   Kingdom
Denise Levertov   Truth & joy
Anne Porter  Faith
Marilyn Chandler McIntyre   Conversion
 Fr. Gordon Gilsdorf  Sanctity
 Edgar Allan Poe  Mary
Edgar Allan Poe's "Hymn"

As the story goes, Poe was walking the streets of New York at midday when he heard a church bell ring. A Jesuit explained to him that the bell rang at 6 am, noon and 6 pm to remind Catholics to pray the Angelus, a devotional focused on Christ’s Incarnation beginning with Mary’s acceptance of the news from the archangel Gabriel. While not Christian, Poe was so moved by this practice that he wrote the poem "Hymn".

Sancta Maria! turn thine eyes
Upon the sinner's sacrifice
Of fervent prayer and humble love,
From thy holy throne above.

At morn, at noon, at twilight dim
Maria! thou hast heard my hymn.
In joy and wo, in good and ill
Mother of God! be with us still.

When my hours flew gently by,
And no storms were in the sky,
My soul, lest it should truant be —
Thy love did guide to thine and thee.

Now, when clouds of Fate o'ercast
All my Present, and my Past,
Let my Future radiant shine
With sweet hopes of thee and thine.

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Bishop Morneau And Poetry -019-web

ABOVE: Bishop Morneau intersperses humor into his thought-provoking presentations. He recently addressed the Sisters and Associates at the quarterly Gathering at the motherhouse.
BELOW: Associates and Sisters enjoyed Bishop's presentation. (Renae Bauer photos)

Bishop Morneau And Poetry -010-web