Enhancing Spiritual Connection through Poetry in a Secular Context. Lynn Underwood. University College London. Institute for Advanced Study, Senate House, June 29, 2012.
Poetry can open the mind to better grasp the complexity of the divine, the holy, and help make connections in down-to-earth ways, integrated into daily life. The language of poetry and the use of metaphor and apparent paradox can expand our conceptual understanding. The concreteness of poetry can also help ground this in the substance of our days. This paper will give examples of specific poetry from Seamus Heaney, Billy Collins, Rainer Maria Rilke, R.S. Thomas, Jessica Powers and others, and point to specifically religious poetry from a variety of faith traditions, describing how they have been useful in the classroom for enriching capacity for sense of communication with the divine for those from specific faith traditions and those who call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Poetry provides words that can open doorways without reducing the spiritual to a meaningless common denominator – leading instead to the depths and richness of religious traditions.
Poetry can help those of faith and those not comfortable in a religious tradition to enhance sense of connection with God and become increasingly aware of that connection in daily life. It can bridge traditions and beliefs and has been used effectively by the author of this paper in a variety of secular college classroom settings and in small group work. Approaching poetry in a contemplative rather than analytic way facilitates this engagement, and journaling encourages direct encounter with the poems themselves in written conversation. Structured group discussion of personal responses to the poems can also provide mutual illumination of contexts and invitation.