The Poetry of Faith

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by Christine Sunderland

Christian writers of all genres – fiction, nonfiction, poetry, prose – have an especially rich inheritance of words and images. Whether we come from liturgical traditions or simpler ones, reformed or not, we are steeped in the poetry of Scripture and the symbols of our faith. We understand incarnation and resurrection. We grapple with the profound mysteries of salvation, the intersection of eternity in time on that Friday afternoon over two thousand years ago. We are reminded to confess and be forgiven, and to obey God’s commandments. Arks float on floodwaters. Seas part. Stone tablets bear the law of God. Cities crumble. A babe born in a cave is worshiped by kings and angels and shepherds. We tell the stories again and again, with word and symbol – with trees, lights, gifts, wreathes, carols. We marvel at Christ Pantocrator, Christ the Ruler of All, Sustainer of the World, the Almighty, and are awestruck by his humble glory, his glorified humility.

Christians witness to a story that has formed Western civilization, a culture that has largely forgotten who they are. And so it is good to remember today, Armistice Day, Remembrance Day. This is the function of art – to echo history, sing to one another who we are, recall our deepest dreams, and mourn our greatest sorrows. Following All Saints Day and looking toward Thanksgiving, Armistice Day calls us to give thanks for those who went to war for our peace, our own brave saints. We remember through image, symbol, and song. We weave red poppies into wreathes and lower flags to half-mast and listen to long still moments of sober silence, only broken by the boom of a 21-gun salute. We mourn our dead with our words and pray for peace with our poetry.
Magdalene Mystery
On this day, the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we recall the truce signed on that eleventh hour in 1918 that ended the First World War, the “war to end all wars,” the “great war.” But there were other wars we went on to fight, and there will be many more to come if we are to ensure the peace. So we honor the brave military who, steeped in our Western traditions of freedom, fought and continue to fight to defend our liberty and law, that legacy of Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights. Our soldiers fight for human dignity reflected in a timeless faith, the ancient poetry of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

As Christian writers we live out and live within the poetry of our faith. We hone and sculpt God’s love to intersect our material world. We make things that matter, characters and choices and stories that matter. Each one of us has a great and powerful responsibility to our culture as it wanders blindly away from Christ and deeper into the desert, hardening America’s heart. We must remind our people who they are, where they come from, and the road they must take into the future. We do this through our words and images, through the sounds of our song as we link phrases and paragraphs and pages forming litanies of living language called stories.

Dorothy Sayers in The Mind of the Maker speaks of the artist creating as God creates, reflecting the mind of our Maker, and in this sense, the writer is in-spired, breathed into. As Christians, we desire to create beauty, truth, and goodness from this in-breath of God. We want to share His love, to distill themes of selflessness and sacrifice into a bejeweled poignancy. We write to bring order out of chaos, to manifest meaning within our culture’s nihilism.

With the now-expected daily surge of violence at home and abroad, with the rejection of both man’s law and God’s law, this call to bring order and hope and sanity to the arts – and our world – is loud and clear. At the end of the day, when the sun drops behind the horizon, and darkness swallows the land, our Christian city on the hill – or in the pages – will light the way for the lost who are still searching. We live in the twilight of civilization, and Christian writers must invite readers to live within their poetry for a time, to absorb the light, hear the song, see the field of blood-red poppies that form our past. One day readers will recall the melody and the words. They will hear the song of history and find their true selves in God’s will for them in the singing.

Being a participant in a poetic work, particularly a true and good and beautiful one, is no small thing. Every word counts, must be welcomed by every sentence, as words weave into a cloth of many colors, a cloak of beauty embracing God. The reader of good poetry often says, “Yes!” or “Aha, that’s it!” or “She has shown me who I am and who I am meant to be.”

Christian artists are poets at heart. Faith is poetry; the spiritual impulse is a creative impulse. We must redeem the time by pointing to the Way, the Truth, and the Life, indeed, Christ himself, through symbol and image. We must hold fast to what is good, true, and beautiful and not be ashamed of simple glory. In the end, our task is profound and poetic: to mirror, in our writing, the love of God, of Christ Pantocrator.

Christine SunderlandChristine Sunderland is author of five award-winning novels: Pilgrimage, set in Italy, Offerings, set in France, Inheritance, set England, Hana-lani, set in Hawaii, and The Magdalene Mystery, a quest for the true Mary Magdalene and the historicity of the resurrection, set in Rome and Provence. Her novel-in-progress, The Fire Trail, about the renewing of our civilization, is set in Berkeley, California. She serves as Managing Editor for the American Church Union ( and Project Manager for the Berkeley Center for Western Civilization ( Visit Christine at (website and blog).

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