‘We are a community of artists whose work is informed by a spiritual lens. We come from diverse backgrounds, life stages, art disciplines, creative interests, and spiritual traditions. Most of us live in the metropolitan DC area, but we also have an online presence. We connect and support artists of faith in the DC area and beyond. We seek to cultivate spiritual development through the arts. Our desire is to create a space of authenticity, creative inspiration, spiritual depth, and meaningful relationships -- all of which fuels artistic expression and contributes to renewal in ourselves and in the society, culture, and world around us. Our name is inspired by the poetic form, ars poetica, and by the word poetry itself, which derives from the Greek poieó, meaning “to make.” A poet, then, is a “maker of things,” and to live a poetic life is to make meaning and beauty where we are and with what we are given. Our hope is that Vita Poetica can be a community that makes art of life, reflecting the image of our Maker, the source of all life, beauty, and meaning.’
- Vita Poetica
In Hebrew, the word avodah simultaneously means “work, worship, and service.” It’s also been said that liturgy is “the work of the people” or, in the original Greek, a “public work” given by God to aid us in worshiping and engaging with God...perhaps it’s appropriate to consider that we ourselves are the work and that our living now is an act of worship.
-- Vita Poetica
Might I, too, Live a Poetic Life?
Dear Vita Poetica, Might I, too, live a poetic life? I am not a poet or painter or dancer or musician. I think I may be pretty boring. But I’ve looked at your website, and you lift up the idea of a poetic life as one that “makes meaning and beauty out of what we are given.” I’m wondering if I might be this kind of poet.
I like the phrase “what we are given.” In my own life what is given has increased over time. What is given today for me, at age 35, is being a single mom with two children ages four and seven. And what is given also includes mistakes I have made in raising them in the past. I am a recovering alcoholic. My children carry memories of my mistakes and I do, too. I have fallen short of the very ideals I want to live by.
I can’t change any of this, but maybe I can create some meaning and beauty in the present by being a more responsible and loving parent. Like Terri St. Cloud says, I can’t go back and make the details pretty but I can move forward and make the whole beautiful. Can this work – that of trying to make the whole beautiful – be part of my poetic life? Is this what you at Vita Poetica mean by “making art of life.” Is this part of what you mean by living poetically?
I’m wondering where God is in all of this. I know that some people think of God as an authority figure in the sky primarily concerned with reward and punishment. But not me. With help from counseling I’ve discovered a way of thinking about God that makes more sense. My counselor is a Methodist minister influenced by process theology. As she explains, process theology says that God is a beckoning presence within us and beyond us that offers fresh possibilities for meaning-and-beauty making, relative to the circumstances of our lives. God is not in the business of reward and punishment, but rather fostering life. Sometimes she quotes a philosopher named Whitehead who said "God is the poet of the world." I know it sounds funny to say, but maybe God lives poetically, too.
This month the primary theme of your organization is Work. You are encouraging us to think of work as a kind of worship. I really never thought of work as worship, but I guess if God really is inside me, and inside all of us offering fresh possibilities for meaning-and-beauty-making, then maybe my own parenting is, or can be, an act of work and worship. Maybe my life is my poem.
But it’s not easy work. It’s hard work, toil after the fall. You put it this way:
Consider how work is described in Genesis both before and after the fall of humankind. In the garden of Eden, Adam is tasked with the job of tending the garden and naming the animals. After Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit and are banished from Eden, work turns into labor and toil. What might these observations suggest about the nature of work and about some of the understandings we now have of work?
If my work is worship it is, at the same time, toil. Or at least struggle. Struggle against letting myself be overly despondent about things I’ve done in the past, struggle against the ever-present temptation to relapse back into substance abuse, struggle to be patient with my children, struggle to keep hoping and believing in myself. Can struggle, including struggle to believe in myself, be worship, too? Can it be one way of living poetically, turning art into life?
You don’t have to respond to this. I just want to ask these questions in the spirit of your theme for the month. And I want to thank you for your organization and your challenge. Like I said, I'm not sure I'm a literary poet, but I feel like I may be, how to say this, a life poet. By this I mean that my life is my poem, and it's very much in process. I can't go back and change some of the earlier stanzas, but I'm trying to build toward something beautiful at the end, inspired by your idea that our life can be our art. Keep up the good work.
I wrote the letter above, inspired by two things: (1) the activity and vision of Vita Poetica and (2) a woman I know who is in the situation of the imaginary Janice. I wanted to respond to Vita Poetica in a way that would let the voice of my friend be heard, and that would simultaneously affirm the spirit and aims of Vita Poetica.
I realize and appreciate the fact that artists, too, can live poeticaly and that their works (musical, visual, literary, conceptual, performative) can be part of their poetic living. And I realize that poetic living itself need not be reduced to the kind of creative transformation Janice seeks. For my part, I think poetic living is any living that embodies qualitie of heart and mind, and the forms of relatedness, noted below. We live poetically when we are attentive, for example; and when we are kind, and playful, and imaginative; and when we learn from silence and a sense of mystery. And works of art are poetic when the embody or evoke such qualities.
As I see things, there's some divinity in all of this. God is the poet of the world insofar as God dwells within each of us as an empowering energy to realize such qualities in our everyday lives, in service to family, friends, and the larger world; and insofar as such qualities, magnified by infinity, are the living vitality of God. God it the deep Silence, the deep Imagation, the deep Playfulness, the deep Beauty, the deep Justice, and, perhaps most importantly, the deep Love.
Artists are people who create, who make things, that help present and elicit God, thus understood, to the world. This is their calling. It is to make art of life, helping us do the same. And this is the calling of Vita Poetica as an organization. That's why this page is dedicated to them.