I used to be a poet. Once. A few years back. You’ve probably read some of the poems I wrote back then. Like this series on Valentine’s Day, written in 2009 or this one on the Word of God, written in 2010. I guess I am not being too conceited when I say that I was a pretty good poet, and even got to grace the stage at many poetry events. But something happened towards the end of 2011. Somehow, I just lost the touch. I found myself struggling to write poetry and often wrestled with inspiration. The process rapidly became too mechanical and I decided to give it up altogether. Of course, there were a few bursts of inspiration here and there, but it was just never the same. I prayed hard and begged God to return the gift. I wrestled with many questions:
Had God taken back the talent because I was a bad steward?
Was it just a phase?
Had it all been a show?
Was I just a poet wanna-be?
Was I truly gifted in poetry?
It was only a few months ago that I began to see what had happened. I noticed that I began losing my poetry touch at around the same time I was getting hold of something else, reformed theology. It was around that time (late 2011) that I began to seriously question and evaluate my own faith claims. Prior to this, I’d just been breezing along, indiscriminately listening to sermons and preachers. All teachers had equal standing before me, and I valued Joel Osteen’s teaching just as much as John Piper’s. Any differences between the two were just personality differences….
But then I began to see that there was much more to it. There was a lot of false teachings going around, and for years, I had been oblivious to most, a victim of many and guilty of quite a good number. My heightened awareness led me to grow cautious and critical about everyone and everything I listened to. I had entered the famous Calvinist “cage phase.”
Now I see that it is this doctrine-consciousness that contributed to the loss of my artistic flow. I could no longer just go with the flow. I had to question every statement before penning it. I began to see every stanza as a truth claim that either glorified God or blasphemed Him. I could no longer just let my mind go free. I was beginning to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. It was not enough to think of myself as a Christian, my words had to reflect my Christianity. You see, my heart was undergoing a massive change, and I could no longer risk trusting it or delegating it to my subconscious. I had become a child in the faith, and I was learning to walk again. The truth of the matter is that the state of my heart had caused a serious impact on the state of my art.
I had to re-learn a lot of things that I had assumed to be true of the Christian walk. God was re-configuring my mind and my worldview. I was no longer seeing things the way I used to see them before. A Copernican shift was taking place in my mind and in my heart. I was being edged out of my own life, and God was rapidly taking center-stage. You see, poetry is art, and art flows from the heart. But the human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. And a heart renewal begins and flows from a mind renewal. “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” [Romans 12:2] Because my mind was undergoing a renewal, my heart had to go on recess. God was working on me.
A NEW POEM
And He is still working on me. What once flowed naturally out of my heart in form of poetry was no longer natural. It had to be suspended and suppressed in order to be corrected. I was learning the rules again. I was acquiring a new natural, and that’s why my poetry had to die, before it could truly live. Over the past few months, I have been experiencing a renewed surge in my creativity. The poetry is once again, albeit reluctantly, flowing from my heart. I am becoming less conscious and more sub-conscious in my creativity. I am less rigid now. I can afford the reckless abandon that is necessary for creativity. I know that my mind is in safe hands. As long as I spend more time in God’s word and cherish private communion with Him, I can trust the effects of that communion to manifest themselves in my poetry. Doctrine is no longer the main or the major point in the process of writing poetry, worship is.
No, I haven’t abandoned doctrine. Truth is still supreme. I still have to check the final product against God’s Word for any errant misses. But this has not been the reason to hold back the creative juices. If you’re an artist, and you’re worried about your art being faithful to the truth, I advice you not to focus on changing your message, but on changing your personal fidelity to the truth. Edit the heart before the art. Reform your private communion with God, and your public acts before men will change. Be deliberate about your love for the truth in the privacy of your devotions, and it will show in your creative works of art. Clean the inside of your heart, and the outside expressions of your art will be clean.
Be the change you want to see in your poetry. The state of the heart will be revealed in the state of the art.