Poetry and Pressing Into Lent

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Back about 10 years ago, three things converged in my life that would prove momentous to my personal growth: I started getting serious about writing poetry, I was discovering the literary legacy of Lewis and Tolkien, and I was also beginning to uncover the riches of the church calender. As it happened, Easter was approaching, and I was eager to practice Lent. I had always been soberly and mysteriously drawn to Passion Week in all its agony, ecstasy, and wonder, and I wanted to honor the story in my own way. Having steeped myself in the ambitious poetry of T. S. Eliot and the epic recreations of Tolkien, I thought to rewrite the Passion as a heroic “lay,” in an exercise of personal devotion. So week by week, I poured over the Gospel accounts, and let my imagination cast the story in the mode of a bard. Sixteen poems later, I had completed the last part of what would eventually become The Lay of the Lord trilogy: Birth, Life, and Death & Triumph. I had attempted to present the spirit of “True Myth” which J. R. R. Tolkien talks about in “Fairy Stories,” without getting too archaic for modern sensibilities.

Engaging in such a project enabled me to see the story of Jesus with fresh eyes, to recapture a sense of the drama and the characters involved: the impending doom of Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem, the intellectual parry and thrust of His sparrings with the Pharisees, the darkness of Gethsemane, the gloom of Golgotha. Doing so allowed me to slip past the watchful dragons of my own settled thoughts about these all too familiar tales.

I would later go on to spend Advent writing the Birth section of the trilogy, and then a few years distilling Jesus’ ministry into Life. Since then, the books have gone out of print, but now I find myself again, during this Lenten season, revising my original work in preparation for a single volume Lay of the Lord.

These seasons of the church year can easily become a tired rehash of the “old, old story” that we’ve heard a million times over. Or they can become times for us to press deeper into the tale, to stand in awe of the sweep of the divine drama, and to stand beside the rich human characters caught up in it. What are you doing this Lent to encounter the “True Myth”?

The Lay of the Lord: Death & Triumph, is free on Noisetrade Books from now through Easter.

Profile photo of Chris Yokel

Chris teaches writing and literature to college and high school students. He is the author of several books of poetry, and has released several albums of original music. He is also an amateur photographer, part-time stick-swordfighter, and chai enthusiast. He and his wife Jen enjoy reading, writing, and exploring the cities, coasts, and forests of New England.


1 Comment

  1. Linda

    I’m not from a liturgical background, so I’m not used to celebrating Lent in any particular way. But I have been a believer for a long time, so I understand how even though we love and treasure it, the “old, old story” can become stale in some ways. The surprise becomes muted and we think because it is familiar that we know and understand it. But so often, we really don’t. If I really, truly understood that story, I would better understand what God is doing in and around me. I would not just see something He did. I would see Him, Himself, and seeing Him will change how I see everything else as well.

    Thank you for sharing your work, because by telling the old story in a new voice, your poems are helping me to do that… to see Him.

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