Poems as Spiritual Teachers

One of the beauties of the spiritual journey is that we have available to us an abundance of teachers. I have been blessed with many great ones. Spiritual mentors ranging from Henri Nouwen to Abraham Joshua Heschel to Thich Nhat Hanh. Paintings such as Van Gogh’s famous Starry Night. Plays such as Our Town. Movies such as A River Runs Through It. I have had some unexpected sources for spiritual growth to include baseball. And, in the therapy room, I have met some extraordinary teachers and have been taught some extraordinary lessons. Some of the lessons have also come to me through poems.

There are certain poems that have stayed with me from when I first came across them. These have been small beacons that have offered me simple guidance in facing various life challenges.

Certainly one of the best known of all poems, rich in imagery and guidance, is the 23rd Psalm. It is a poem to which many have turned during dark times, reassured that, even as we walk through the Dark Valley, we are not alone. It is a special comfort for those of us who battle addiction and a gentle reminder to “let go and let God”.

Other poems that have been spiritual teachers have taught me important life lessons. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” has illuminated my struggles with major decisions and has encouraged me not to look back, not to dwell on the Road Not Taken but rather to focus on the path I have chosen.

Langston Hughes’ poem A Dream Deferred is a powerful reminder to me of the crushing devastation of poverty and racism. It also forcefully challenges me to honestly assess what dreams I have deferred and what impact that has had on my mind and soul.

Of course I include a baseball poem here, the wonderful “Polo Grounds” which speaks to me not only of the passage of time but of the challenge for me to pay attention

Finally I would share Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go gentle Into That Good Night” which captures for me both the attitude with which I wish to face death as well as my own grief over my father’s passing.

Reflections: Do you have a poem that has lighted your way. If so, what poem and how?

About richp45198

I am a clinical psychologist and have an abiding interest in matters spiritual.
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2 Responses to Poems as Spiritual Teachers

  1. Michele Osborn says:

    Come on! Play ball!
    Take the road less traveled by.
    Thou art always with me.

    These are such encouraging and inspirational messages. Thank you Rich for sharing these beautiful poems. They truly speak to my heart. A poem that I memorized when I was about 12 years old still moves me and is as relevant to me now as it was almost 50 years ago….

    Pushing The Clouds Away | by Rod McKuen | 1967

    Clouds are not the cheeks of angels you know?
    They’re only clouds
    Friendly sometimes
    But you can never be sure

    If I had longer arms
    I’d push the clouds away
    Or make them hang above the water somewhere else
    But I’m just a man
    Who needs and wants
    Mostly things he’ll never have
    Looking for that thing that’s hardest to find
    I’ve been going a long time now
    Along the way I’ve learned some things
    You have to make the good times yourself
    Take the little times and make them big times
    And save the times that are alright for the ones that aren’t so good

    I’ve never been able
    To push the clouds away by myself
    Help me

  2. Susan Jean Bass says:

    My grandmother died in 1945 and I was born in 1961. I believe she never taught my mother how to love herself or others. But then again, maybe no one taught her either. My grandmother and I are connected by a few recipes, a few kitchen items and one poem. If I could only leave one piece of literature to my son (or anyone else I cared about) it would be the one my grandmother recommended. “If” by Rudyard Kipling:

    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

    If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
    If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

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