Create in Me: Embodying poetry in a prose world

Our “Create in Me” series offers space for conversation about the ways people are shaping worship through writing songs and liturgies, using poetry and visual arts, and simply creating experiences in worship that encourage deepening faith.

Through articles, hymns and their backstories, and ideas for using worship resources in new ways, we are exploring, celebrating and sharing that diversity and including a variety of perspectives on worship, meaning and what inspires.

This month, the Rev. Maggie Wellert shares her views of “visual poetry” in preparing a table for worship.

For the first two weeks of January 2018, I became keenly aware of my “embodied” life! For eight days, Keith and I toured Israel….on the bus by 8:00 a.m. each morning, traveling to various sites, disembarking, walking, climbing back on the bus, riding more….walking more. I was so grateful for my walking stick! Returning to the U.S., I brought not only amazing photos and incredible memories. I also brought a hitch-hiking, microscopic companion who wreaked havoc on my GI tract for the next week. I was so grateful for antibiotics.

We experience the wonders and ills of the world, and interpret that world, from within these bodies. I like to think of us as embodied spiritual beings—the wholeness of being human—mind, spirit and body. As with the amazing “Word that took on flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood,” we are incarnated beings. (John 1:14, The Message)

We bring those bodies to worship! I love the feel of music resonating within my bones, the rhythmic sway that causes me to feel one with the sound. I deeply love the touch, aroma, and taste of the bread and cup; the invitation of the bathing waters of the font; the flicker of candlelight, its shadows playing on wall and ceiling. Each captures my imagination: Living Water, Bread of Life, Cup of Salvation, Light of the World.

Embodied life, incarnated spiritual existence, is poetry. Often, however, that poetic existence is lived out in a prose world…even in worship. I invite you to consider some poetic presence in the gathered assembly’s time of worship, whether it be Sunday morning, devotions for a meeting, Sunday school gatherings, or youth group. I invite you to write visual poetry that presents sacred space as the setting for word, sacraments, prayer and song. Set the stage—set the table—for worship that engages all the senses.

Those of us who use paraments in worship are already setting the table with fabric and symbol. However, I find that most often those symbols are visible to only a few, and the color of the season is lost if the table covering does not have a frontal piece. We are simply going to expand on a long standing worship and liturgical tradition.

Let’s start with the theme of the day (see photo above). This table is “set” for a worship in Advent, a worship that focuses on the witness of Mary. It was a service of quiet contemplation, simple music, prayers and candle lighting. Blue is both the newer color designated for the season of Advent, and is often used as a symbol for Mary.

There are two tables: one that normally serves as the communion table in the front of the room, has a beautiful icon of Mary and the Babe, draped blue cloth, and a candle. It is an optional focus for mediation and contemplation. The second is a large round table in the middle of the worship space, and thus, in the middle of the gathered. It could also represent the world, and all the children of God who are part of that world. In what ways does God enter your world today, inviting you into a challenging response of trust and faithfulness?

Notice that there is a basic white table cloth holding everything together as a foundation piece. We also used hymnals under the cloth to create varied heights for the placement of objects—adding texture and dimension. On the four compass points, we placed varied statues of Mary: European, African, Latina, and Asian in character. The Incarnation is for all God’s children, and each woman can see her own face in Mary’s.

We also placed numerous candles on the round table. There are layers to the presence of candles in Advent and each of those layers is present. The primary function was that as we brought out prayers to God, we would each light a candle, as we, too, witnessed to our trust in God’s continued movement in the world.

It is elegant. It is simple. It carries layers of meaning. And, as each of the gathered scattered into the rest of their day, this image moved with each one with all its symbolism, texture, richness, color and witness.

You can do this too. Here’s a simple starting tool kit.

Always remember these words: simple, elegant focal point.

Fabrics are key. Pashminas, scarves, remnants from fabric stores and resale shops are good sources. A Pashmina is about 24” wide by 6’ long—a good sample size. Choose fabric that is washable and drapes easily. I started with scraps of each liturgical color (blue, purple, red, gold, green, white, black) in varied shades. You can twist or layer different colors or shades of the same color. As you expand, consider multi-colored designs; seasonal prints (think fall); stripes or varied colors; settings for Biblical stories, like browns, golds and greens.

Candles and candle holders of all kinds and shapes. These will also add texture and height. Remember that a single candle can be a bold statement.

Items from creation: feathers, stones, sand, shells, branches—look out the window and get ideas. Raid the kitchen for baskets, bowls, simple baking utensils

Symbols of Moravian faith in particular, Christian faith in general: water, pitchers, bread, evergreen branches; chalices; even bread machines, which can fill the nave with the smell of freshly baked bread for Holy Communion or the texts of Thanksigving.

Gradually expand your thoughts. What might be a perfect small table setting for a funeral sermon or memoir. I once spread a quilt my grandmother made to emphasize the way her life had been pieced together. Put a large rock on the communion table (with a nice cookie tray under it) and anoint it with oil as you read the story of Jacob anointing the rock upon which he slept and dreamed.

Poetry in a prose world!