How are we to be intelligent, thinking creatures on the one hand, and faithful, trusting people on the other? One answer to this dilemma is theopoetics. Theopoetics suggest that we are best served when we make room in our worldview for the beauty and mystery of life as an integral part of faith: our intelligent, rational minds certainly have a place in faithful living, but they are not sufficient in of themselves.
Theopoetics isn’t just about verse. When a text is acting theopoetically, it functions in opposing directions, simultaneously pulling the reader further into the world of the text and pushing the reader into a reconsideration of, and reconnection to, life in the world beyond it.
Classic Greek has the noun poema and the verb poiein; “a created thing” and “to make,” respectively. Theo is Greek for God.
Samuel Johnson claimed that “The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar, and familiar things new.”
Percy Shelley added, “Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world.”
Audre Lorde wrote, “As we begin to recognize our deepest feelings, we begin to give up, of necessity, being satisfied with suffering and self-negation, and with the numbness which so often seems like their only alternative in our society. Our acts against oppression become integral with self, motivated and empowered from within.”
Theopoetics arises here, at the intersection of theology with the imagination, aesthetics, the arts, and embodiment. It is the theory and practice of making God known, particularly through language. It presumes that how we express our experiences of the Divine may change our experiences of the Divine: the how of theological reflection affects the what of it.
Further reflections on what it is that theopoetics is about, see the Definitions section.