Full confession – I’m not much of a poetry-kinda-guy. My Grandma is an accomplished poet, but the craft has never appealed to me.

Last week, however, I was driving and listening to National Radio as they interviewed Harry Ricketts. With his Oxford clip, and measured tone, he sounded like a learned person – with each word carefully chosen for maximum effect.

I was enthralled, and then he turned to one of his latest poems, called “Grief Limericks”. Harry explained that limericks are usually used for humour and brevity, but he decided to employ them to write about the suicide of his step-son.

Here is his poem.

 

i

I once had a stepson called Max.

As a child, he could rarely relax.

The other kids kicked him;

he was a natural victim.

I once had a stepson called Max.

 

 

ii

I once had a stepson called Max,

liked Gunn and Blood on the Tracks.

But things were askew,

were tangled in blue.

I once had a stepson called Max.

 

 

iii

I once had a stepson called Max

with needs as tender as wax.

When I left his mother,

he saw me as other.

I once had a stepson called Max.

 

 

iv

I once had a stepson called Max

whose memories turned into tacks.

Love inside out

helps hatred to sprout.

I once had a stepson called Max.

 

v

I once had a stepson called Max

with a head full of cricketing facts,

who one winter’s day

 

I once had a stepson called Max.

 

 

That pause, in the fifth verse. That break – when the words stop – and there is simply space – absolutely floored me. I was driving, and almost began weeping.

The pause tells us that something is missing. Our brain whirs to fill in the gaps. And yet it also says that words cannot contain what happened that winter’s day.

It is too painful, too raw, too real to be captured by words. Instead, it can only be told by the absence of words. By the breath and the shock of a pause in a poem.

Now – this will only be experienced if you read this poem aloud. If you haven’t – can I challenge you to go back and do it? It will only take a minute or two.

Again – there’s something that’s captured here when the words are spoken, and then the silence hits. We know the author’s grief in a different way when we read this aloud, than when we read it on the page.

And this knowledge of grief is – in many ways – closer to the experience of grief. I could read an academic paper on the psychological impact of suicide within a family, and will likely come away slightly smarter, and with a firmer grasp on the topic. But I won’t know the embodied experience of this loss.

Whereas this poem comes closer. It can never fully capture the experience – nor would I ever hope to – yet we know through these words, through the pause, through sound and silence – in a way that pure academic knowledge cannot.

This is why – at least in part – the Bible contains poems and songs. This God – the one who exists beyond-and-within our knowledge, cannot be fully known through academic extrapolation and debate – as important as they are.

Instead, we see this God revealed through architecture, creation, song and poem, music and metaphor – and ultimately, revealed not in an essay or treatise – but in a person.

When the Reformers took up their cry, “Sola Scripture!” – a rightful transformation took place. But it has been my observation that our cry now is, “Sola The Bits of Scripture That Make Sense and Are Logical Like Paul’s Letters!”

For us to come to a fuller, richer understanding of God and ourselves, we need a return to the whole canon of revelation. We need the poets, the laments and the confusing-ness of Revelations.

And we cannot just read it. We must read it aloud, shout it, sing it, whisper it – and enact it. This is a living word, after all.

Eugene Peterson, the scholar from Regent College and author of the Message, supposedly used to teach his students the Psalms, engaging with the original languages – and then give them homework for their soul.

They were to take the Psalms that call us to “Shout to the Lord”, and find a field or park. Then, they were to throw their head back, and yell out the song at the top of their lungs, praying the psalm as it is requested to be.

Students found that they knew the psalm in a wildly different way when they were shouted, than when they were inaudibly read in their minds.

Our God is known through His Word – but there are many ways we can read it. We can read it silently, or aloud. Alone, or in a group. Quickly, or meditatively. We can study it, or soak in it. We can draw it, memorise it, fast with it, eat a meal with it encircling us, act it, obey it, worship through it, debate it, be challenged by it, rest under it.

Why not try knowing God though His Word in a new way this week? Take Psalm 33, and shout it. At home, or in the park. The shower is the safest place to start. But bring your whole self to speaking these words out, as they were designed to be read. 

Who knows how you may be shaped by this practice, as you bring your whole self in full-bodied engagement, to the one who transcends all knowledge?