When I started working with the lectionary, I wrote single-page journal entries for each passage. For one cycle, I wrote (really bad) hymn lyrics. And I’ve used the psalms to pray with the news. This time through I wanted something with more structure that could draw on the practice of lectio divina.
Lectio divina or sacred reading reveals a phrase to us that we should reflect on. After visiting a Trappist abbey and a conversation about centering words with the guest sister, I started pulling phrases and a centering word from my reading. I wanted a creative discipline that would encourage reflection through writing. I read “Poetry as a Spiritual Practice” by Robert McDowell but it wasn’t really what I was hoping for since none of the practices began with a different text.
What I came up with after reviewing poetry forms was to work with the sestina. A sestina is a 39-line poem that consists of six stanzas of six lines each that end with the same six words in a pattern. Then it ends with a three-line envoi that contains all six words, two to a line.
Perfect! By pulling a centering word from the Hebrew Bible, Gospel and Epistle readings I had three words at the ready! The second set of words could be pulled by a writing partner, from hymns connected to the readings or a second reading of the passage. Most importantly, the focus is on the words because the lines can be of any length.
My current word source is a traditional lectio divina reading of the Scripture and then a lectio divina reading from a connected hymn. For this week, my first two words connected to the Hebrew Bible reading were “delight” and “marvel,” to the Epistle “steadfast” and “assurance,” and to the Gospel “confess” and “forgive.”
If you were writing the poem normally, you would begin with the first line and work your way through. To make it reflective, write the lines as you pull the words but only in the stanzas where lines pre-exist. What happens is you revisit the word as the poem develops over the week. I’m finding it’s not a good poem, but a good way of reflecting because you are revisiting and connecting each idea while you write.
If any of the poem is to see the light of day, it will be the envoi as a prayer or even a phrase for art journaling. Here’s this week’s envoi:
Let us be your delight and the marvel of others,
let us be steadfast in loving and offering assurance,
let us confess when we fall short, knowing you forgive. (Amen.)
If you want to try it, here’s a sestina form sheet with the pattern and my schedule.
Prompts from the Past
Paul’s epistle is mostly quotes so go back into Isaiah 11 and read it slowly while underlining passages that stick out to you. Write the passages on a piece of paper and read them again to see which ones really stick out to you. Journal while asking yourself:
- What can I learn from these passages to shape my faith?
- How can these passages provide hope to me? to people around me? to strangers?
The heart of the passage is in verse 8, “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” Write those as the centerpiece of your paper. Then write your reflection in vine-like lines that curve and twist around the page. You might even write some leaves or fruits.