“In the beginning God created (poiesis) the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said…” Genesis 1:1-2
Thus, begins our sacred scriptures, with a divine voice and God’s hovering Spirit/breath. In the verses that follow we read of a God that creates through clearly speaking to the earth, the sea, and God’s self, before falling into silent rest, allowing breath to just be (Gen 1-2:3). If you will tolerate some theologizing, I wonder, “could this sabbath be a moment for creation to speak back?”
After all, though this poem would seem a monologue by God, it concludes with divine silence while announcing that this silence is a holy day, God’s sabbath rest. Are we not still in this holiest of times? We do not make our way by some dogmatic voice shouting answers at us like Siri or Alexa, but rather like bats crying out to what seems a void and receiving only echo’s of some Holy Ghost that haunts the caves of existence. Is it not by this silent voice that we make our way, we live, we love, we worship, we wonder, we are… but such honesty about our existential predicament is terrifying isn’t it?
All the Bible stories that follow this creation poem, all the sacred prophesies and songs, all the history and proverbs, and yes, even the poem itself, are they not just interpretations of these holy echoes? We fill the silence with a sound, and with that sound establish an order, make a way, find a purpose, or get our direction. In this Spirit we orient ourselves in the spinning chaos of our cosmos, setting up sacred pathways, holy symbols, and lasting structures to empower those who come after us. Maybe with these words or that ritual they will find their way, and maybe they will do it better. It is right for us to call this Spirit and its work, “Holy,” for we must not take it lightly, but let us not be so arrogant as to call it dogmatic.
So I say all this because the word “theology” gets a bad rap. A helpful definition for theology is “God-talk,” but can also mean “God-order/reason.” Interestingly, following our poem, it seems as though God talking gave rise to a lot of talk about God, and like creation these conversations are wonderfully diverse. Unfortunately, however, the history of religion is replete with its leaders, and theologians supposing that their talk about and reasoning of God is the only true order of things and therefore others must fall silent before their dogma. They turn the conversation into a monologue, and setting up their voice as thought it was God’s they demand the world orient itself to their words. Yet, God does not cry out from the heavens, denouncing their arrogance; instead God’s Spirit simply troubles waters of the faithful urging them to speak up.
So, in the spirit of courageously speaking up in the name of God, I want to introduce you to the word “theopoetics.” Deriving from the Greek “poiesis” (to create), theopoetics means “God making/creating/doing.” Theopoetics is a way of doing theology that not only celebrates how God creates us, but also explores how we in turn create God through language, culture, ritual, tradition, and art among other things. While traditionally theology is concerned with speaking properly about God; theopoetic asks “what novel images of God do we invite when we speak, think, and engage with God in different manners, in creative ways, and with others.” For me, theology and theopoetics are not totally distinct; rather I believe that theopoetic can be an empowering way to do theology with a community.
Okay, I went down this theological rabbit hole for a reason. The young adults of First Church have been planning a “theopoetics open-mic night’” throughout the summer. We do not have a set date yet, but it will likely happen in September, so be sure to keep an eye out for details. We hope that this event will not only empower attendees to “perform” their theology (poiesis also carries the connotation of performance) or express their spirituality, but also hope to allow them to creatively interact with theology through art booths and do-it-yourself craft projects. We hope to have more details in the coming months, but if you are interested in helping plan this event or be part of it in any way, please reach out to me at the email address below.