Third Wave Theopoetics: Fundamental Practices

An “-ology” implies theorizing.  It implies laboratories and whiteboards covered with equations.  It implies stacks of books and lots of talking.

A “-poetics” implies theorizing too, but it also implies poesis, the making and doing of things.  A poetics is pointless without writing, performance, sculpting, painting, dancing.  So a particular sort of theology might just have foundational principles, but that’s not enough for a theopoetics.  Theopoetics requires foundational practices.  Here are some things that I find foundational to my own theopoetic endeavor.

A Serious Pursuit of God-Honoring Worship.  The regular act of coming deliberately into heaven to offer the sacrifices of praise tunes my soul in a way that nothing else does, or can.  I can’t put into words what this does.

Singing Psalms.  Part of the above, but worth a separate mention. The psalms are the entire emotional lexicon of the human soul, expressed in a way that honors and glorifies the God who made it.  They are a primer in worship, and in worshipful living, thinking, feeling.

Sabbath Rest.  Rest replenishes and restores what is depleted.  It includes naptime, days where I have no commitments and need do nothing, changes of pace like a backpacking trip, good food, and drinks with enough shalom in them to relax the body and gladden the heart.

Physical Obedience.  If I sing the Psalms with an eye to obeying what I find there, I will sing, shout, write songs, beat drums, dance, raise our hands, kneel, bow down, and so on. Paul desires that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.  There’s more where these come from.  What does body posture and instrumentation have to do with spiritual benefit?  Guess I’ll find out along the way, by obeying…

Pretheoretical Obedience.  Speaking of obedience, there are times when God calls me to do something where I haven’t yet worked out all the theology.  Of course this is dangerous stuff; if I say “God told me” when it’s really just my own fleshly longing, then I’m likely to blunder into all kinds of sin that adequate time for study and reflection might have protected me from.  But then, there’s a ditch on the other side of the road, too: the Spirit leads me to act, and I say “Sorry, no can do; haven’t done the theological work on that one.”  How’s that gonna play at the Judgment Seat of Christ?  Of course, this is just saying that hearing God is a big deal and I need to do it right.  No surprises there.  Theopoetics requires obedience in the presence of mystery and confusion.  I do better than we know when I obey, and that’s okay.  The best embodied, lived theo-art happens in close communion with God, whether I understand what we’re doing or not.  Often, in my experience, not — or at least, not until later.

Feasting and Celebration.  I can’t say I’m very far into this yet, but much has been made of the spiritual discipline of various privations, and very little of the spiritual discipline of feasting well.  Making a deliberate attempt to incarnate our joy meaningfully in serious feast is a good, good thing, and carries Sabbath rest a step further.  Celebration of both customary days (All Saints, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Pentecost) and ad hoc occasions (crossing the Red Sea, bringing the ark up to Jerusalem, getting a promotion at work) is a discipline, and I find that it changes my walk with God for the better to engage in it.

Composed Prayer.  Taking the time to write my prayers (or read what others have taken the time to write) makes a substantial difference in the way that I pray.  Ought I to pray in a biblically mature way off the cuff?  Sure.  But I don’t, and growth requires disciplined attention.  For me, writing my prayers fosters that disciplined attention.

Some of these are optional, others are just plain biblical.  The point, in either case, is that theopoetic living does not arise simply from thinking about key principles.  It arises from the disciplined cultivation of soul and body through doing as well as talking and thinking.


One Response to Third Wave Theopoetics: Fundamental Practices

  1. Jim Reitman says:


    You’ve done a great job showing how good theopoetics will result in loving God in life-giving ways. I would argue that if we are properly “aligned” by the kinds of foundational practices you have outlined here and in the prior post on this topic, then those who practice theopoetics will of necessity be challenged to look at others with the eyes of Jesus and respond according to need. Further, I would argue that this response will often be counter-intuitive to our usual modes of interaction and that these actions towards others will often—at least initially—be “expensive” to our reserves of time and energy. Because that’s what biblically loving others typically entails.

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