Confessions of a Spiritual Slow Learner

I’ve decided that “slow learner” is the phrase that best describes my approach to spirituality. It can takes me years (or even decades) to put even the most obvious spiritual lesson into practice. Take becoming a spiritual director, for example.

I had known about spiritual direction for years. I even knew that it was a growing profession (it still is). And I had a strong desire to find out more.

But other than looking through the brochures for a few programs, I didn’t pursue the possibility of getting trained as a spiritual director. Now that I’ve received a certificate in InterSpiritual Counseling from One Spirit Learning Alliance, I can’t help but wonder what took me so long.

Same is true for my current spiritual practice: I get up about an hour earlier than I used to, do a few chores like cleaning the bathroom A black coffee much with P.O.E.M. on it.and emptying the litter box, feed the cat, make myself a perfect cup of coffee, and settle down on the sofa to read a poem from a poetry anthology.

The anthology needs to be one of those that specialize in “spiritual” poetry. Robert Bly has a few. So does Roger Housden. Mimi Khalvati has a nice one called Poetry to Calm Your Soul.

Then I read my poem of the day (I just start with page one and work my way through) out loud, three times. Between each reading I pause, take a sip of coffee, and let both the words and caffeine do their thing. One rouses my body, the other, my soul.

After I’ve read through the poem three times, I journal for awhile—mostly about the poem. What words or phrases stood out for me? Where did the poem take me? Did the poem shed some light on something stirring in my life?

The whole process takes about 45 minutes to an hour. A reasonable investment of time and attention that has yielded tremendous benefits. I’m accumulating a trove of poems to use in my ministry, and I’m starting to write poems again, too.

And that’s where the slow learner part comes in. I’ve been involved with poetry for over thirty years, first as an undergraduate English major and then through two, count ’em, two graduate writing programs.

Yet in all those years, I had somehow failed to recognize the spiritual depth of many of the poems that studied.

Of course, the fact that I was studying the poems may have been part of the problem. I’m finding that this new approach to poetry requires shutting off my mind’s critical apparatus and just let the poem be. And when I do that, I can just be as well.

So, after years of skating along the surface of poetry I’ve finally broken through the intellectual ice and fallen into the spiritual depths. And the best poems are a bit like a splash of cold water, too, waking me up from my slumber and invigorating my spirit. Coffee’s not bad, either.



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