I think there is a poet in me
she’s been hiding
I didn’t know she was there
I didn’t see her
I didn’t hear her
I didn’t watch for her
wait for her
listen to her
or know her
and yet, when I come to this place in the woods
and I sit down
and I open my mouth
poetry comes out
and I really think
she’s been here all along.
In the woods behind my house rest a collection of nine large flat rocks. Daily, I walk down to these “priestess rocks” for some sacred time alone to pray, meditate, consider, and be. Often, while in this space, I open my mouth and poetry comes out. I’ve come to see this experience as theapoetics—experiencing the Goddess through direct “revelation,” framed in language. As Stanley Hopper originally described in the 1970’s, it is possible to “…replace theology, the rationalistic interpretation of belief, with theopoetics, finding God[dess] through poetry and fiction, which neither wither before modern science nor conflict with the complexity of what we know now to be the self.” Theapoetics might also be described, “as a means of engaging language and perception in such a way that one enters into a radical relation with the divine, the other, and the creation in which all occurs.”
Rather than developing or articulating a scientific theory of the Goddess, or even a cohesive thealogy, the idea is that theologians may instead find the Goddess through “poetic articulations” of their own embodied experiences. Theapoetics asks thealogians to accept these lived experiences as legitimate sources of direct, or divine, revelation, within the wider understanding of both the divine and Life itself as ultimately mysterious and irreducible. Thealogy in this way becomes more poetry than physics, while also perhaps simultaneously allowing physics and science to share the realm of the sacred and divine. In the process of engaging with direct revelation in a powerful way, we meet the presence of the living Goddess that always exists close to the surface of daily reality. An example of this may be found in another spontaneous poem that emerged when I opened my mouth in the woods one summer afternoon:
Goddess, where are you?
I am within you and around you
in your heart that seeks answers
Goddess, do you exist?
Yes, I am as real as your own heartbeat.
I am here in that bird’s song
I am here in the breeze that touches your face
I am as solid as the stone you sit on
I am that which weaves the Whole.
I am that which holds the All.
I am that which flows,
through the heartbeat of every form on this earth
I am within you and around you
beneath you and above you
I am your home
I am that which you seek
I am that which you know
And, I love deeply, richly, and well.
Educator and artist Callid Keefe-Perry explains that: “…creation is a body of God[dess], and that our relationship to the divine must be similarly ‘enfleshed.’ Just as the poet must bring new eyes to the particulars and details of life so as to more fully capture them in verse… theologians bring a renewed perspective on creation to more fully capture how God[dess] moves in the world” (588).
I also see and respond to theapoetics in the writings of others. When others write with broad, sweeping, beautiful, soaring language about the nature of life and reality, I hear in those rhythms a way of understanding and experiencing the Goddess. A favorite example is in Brian Swimme’s description of the Great Birth (Big Bang) in his essay from the book Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminist Philosophy: “From a single fireball the galaxies and stars were all woven. Out of a single molten planet the hummingbirds and pterodactyls and gray whales were all woven. What could be more obvious than this all-pervasive fact of cosmic and terrestrial weaving? Out of a single group of microorganisms, the Krebs cycle was woven, the convoluted human brain was woven, the Pali Canon was woven, all part of the radiant tapestry of being. Show us this weaving? Why, it is impossible to point to anything that does not show it, for this creative, interlacing energy envelops us entirely. Our lives in truth are nothing less than a further unfurling of this primordial ordering activity…Women are beings who know from the inside out what it is like to weave the Earth into a new human being” (21, emphasis mine). As Keefe-Perry explains and we see demonstrated within Swimm’s quote, “Used as an adjective, a the[a]poetic text is one that reveals some aspect of the divine.”
Drawing directly from David Miller’s (a student of Hopper) three-fold conception of “theopoiesis,” I offer this similar three-fold understanding of theapoetics:
- Stepping back—moving away from the classic blinders of Western understandings and theological or intellectual or theoretical constraints and becoming clear and open to the magic unfolding right in front of our eyes.
- Stepping down—“in which the individual enters the darkness of mystery and is unable to construct meaning because the familiar tools of theology and metaphysics are no longer available” (Keefe-Perry)
- Stepping through—emerging from the dark confusion and ineffability into a “re-poetizing of existence.” (Keefe-Perry)
Quoting Miller, Keefe-Perry goes on to explain: “It not only means reading poetry. It means, especially, reading everything in life and work poetically. It does not mean stepping out of the depths through to anything else. Rather, it means walking through everything deeply, seeing through life deeply.”
One of my favorite verses in my life as a mother and as a conscious observer of the rhythms and flow of life comes from this poem by Mary Oliver:
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
I have a friend who is a “recovering Christian.” She says that she can only put her trust in science now and will never again believe in something she cannot see. Several months ago, I dreamed that I was trying to explain to her my experiences and sense of the Goddess as real using my love for my baby as an example—telling her that you cannot see or prove my love for my baby, but I know without one scrap of doubt that this love exists in the world, because I experience and live it every day.
If theapoetics calls to you as it does to me, I suggest finding a sacred spot to be alone, opening your mouth and seeing what comes out.
Woods hold me
Goddess hear me
Peace fill me…
Additional examples of my own spontaneous theapoetical experiences:, and this Woodsprayer below.
This is a place of holy beauty
This life is my prayer
I open my arms to the fullness that surrounds me
–Molly, June 25, 2012