The Making of an Apologist Through Poetry

poetry

Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence … (1 Peter 3:15b)

What does it take to defend our faith? For many years I struggled to come to terms with what it means for a Christ-follower to be able to respond with a worthy answer to unbelief or skepticism. Apologetics has become such an important part of being a Christian in a world that is so antithetical and adversarial to the Bible and our beliefs.

Even though I have a degree in theology and years of ministry experience, I used to feel wholly inadequate to this task of explaining my faith to others. I was never one to memorize Scripture or catechisms or to dive deeply into the writings of the saints throughout the ages. Yet still, as a Catholic writer, I knew I was called to present the truth of my faith with boldness and clarity. How my own sense of apologetics developed in my life has been a beautiful unfolding of the poetry of the One who has sung his song of salvation straight into my heart.

Knowing Theology

Because my ministry puts me in close contact with Christians of other denominations, I have seen both the joy of our commonality and the necessity of more precisely defining the particulars of what I believe. Yet, when I come face to face with real differences in theology, I find I have no taste for conflict. I have a sadness of soul knowing that many of my separated brethren consider Roman Catholicism either to be partially corrupted by the world or entirely heretical to the truth.

I cannot deny the sincerity of faith and the depth of knowledge that these Bible-believing brothers and sisters possess. It is that zeal, in fact, that led me to examine my own beliefs more closely and to spend many hours in prayer and study in order to understand the beauty and profundity of the Catholic faith. I would not consider what came out of those hours of quiet contemplation to be Apologetics in the strictest sense. Still, I am confident that what I have discovered is a deep and intricate awareness of God and his ways.

A Scholar’s Desire, A Poet’s Heart

One of the most important things I have learned about theology is that it lies dormant if, when expressed, it is not understood. True, there are those who will be so entrenched in their own beliefs that any faith argument I present will sound either like nonsense or treason to the Lord of lords. After years of trying to understand my own ministry of words, I finally came to the conclusion that I was less a scholar and more a poet — yet a poet with a deep understanding of God.

I believe that the greatest theologians are the mystics and poets and musicians. With their eloquent words and their connection to the rhythms of life they speak to the heart and raise the soul to places where the Savior longs to sit and sup with his people. While I marvel at the knowledge of my fellow writers on a vast range of topics, I have come to accept with joy my own poetic understanding of God and the ways in which he allows me to express his truth to others through the written word.

Incarnational, Relational, Sacramental, Empathetic

At the heart of my ministry is love for the incarnational Son of God, the One who came to earth to give himself completely for our sins. His life was the ultimate sign of God’s love. His heart bled with deep and divine empathy for the ones he had come to save. His surrender to the cross in obedience to the Father redeemed us and made us new creations. He left us his words and deeds to carry us to the Great Day of his Second Coming. He gave us the sacraments to open up heaven through the things of earth.

Salvation is a mystery so vast and so profound, and yet, it is something so pure that only a childlike heart can take hold of it and allow it to unfold in time and space. It is a love poem, spoken from eternity past to Kingdom come. It is our all in all, the essence of belonging, the source of all healing, and the experience of solace and surrender. It is the divine marriage feast of the Bride and the Bridegroom, the ever-unfolding drama of the lost finding their way home to Christ.

The Poet’s Place

I truly admire those who can defend the Catholic faith with knowledge and insight — those saints who can call up Scripture, Church history, and doctrinal writings at a moment’s notice. I hear some of the nation’s top apologists speak each year at the Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference. I marvel at their understanding and I continue to take in all that they have to say. And yet, their words often fail to reach my poet’s heart.

My greatest encounters with truth often come from the lesser-known apologists, people like Marty Rotella of Spirit Power Music, Father Joseph Gill, and Bryan Mercier. These men are spreading the message of the Gospel in their little corners of the world, speaking and singing with passion and power. They speak about such wonders as Jesus squeezing himself into bread. They meditate on the wood of the tree that formed the cross and felt its sorrow. They rejoice in the grace of the One who takes the most broken, rebellious young soul and turns it around with the purity of sacrificial love.

This is the kind of apologetics that speaks most clearly to my soul and inspires me to sing my own song of salvation through poetic words. It opens me up most powerfully to the presence of Christ in the sacraments. A more poetic approach to grasping the great truths of my faith speaks to my heart in a way many volumes on theology could not. I have come to see that Christ, salvation, the cross, the sacraments, and the Church are mysteries beyond my simple intellect, but not beyond my childlike heart.

The Quiet, Broken, Inner Room Where God Dwells

One of my favorite musicians is Michael Kelly Blanchard. I had the pleasure of interviewing him years ago when I worked in Christian radio. He is truly a warrior-poet, a man who has been captured by the beauty and grace of God. He pours out the most profound theology in the words of his songs.

Through the imagery of his poetry, I have learned so much about the Broken God, the One who loves with tears all those who are broken in spirit. Poetry such as his has given me permission to venture more deeply into those inner rooms where all the hidden hurts and secret sins have been locked away.

In that place of quiet, that holy land of the broken heart where I have allowed the Savior to enter and do a thorough housecleaning, I have learned why God allows sorrow and trial, heartache and struggle. In the realms of my hopelessness and desperation, the Lord has opened me up to the futility of my unfulfilled dreams, the vaporous nature of my vain ambitions, the cold despair of my own sinful strength, and the shame of so many years spent fighting the wrong battles in the maze of self.

In the solitude of my surrender I have come in contact with the most profound truths: the delicate dance of salvation our Savior leads us through with his wounded hands, the joy of sin confessed and peace discovered in submission, and the treasures at my disposal gathered on my journey and sent heavenward day by precious day.

Poetry Welling Up, Spilling Out, Seeking Its Level

It is a light feeling indeed, to see the Savior shining through the trials, to see the meaning in the madness of living, and to know that I am held in the most loving of hands.

It is only in this brokenness that the poetry of God’s perfect love song can bubble up to the surface of my mind, pour forth from my weary hands to the keyboard, and venture out into the world to find another troubled heart in need of healing.  I glory in the wonder that God’s work in my own soul can speak to another person because of the common longing we both share.

The differences among Christians still breaks my heart, but I have learned not to worry as much about trying to convince those who are “wrong” why I am “right.” I have become content to see every moment as an opportunity to encounter the Savior, to share his love in my life and the experience of my Catholic faith through my ministry of words, and to allow Jesus to take it all and bring good out of it.

I care less, for example, about convincing others about the truth of the Eucharist and more about singing its beauty with my words. I have abdicated the throne of my own self-importance in favor of flowing within the stream of Christ’s living water and allowing it to take me where I am meant to go.

The Good Answer We Give is Love

As I continue this journey of salvation, walking the rocky road of trials along the narrow path to where my Lord stands ready to receive me one day, I know that more than ever I am called to stand up for the truth of what I believe. I am a stronger defender of the Catholic faith than I have ever been; and yet, I love to spend time with my separated brethren and allow their journeys to intersect with mine. So long as I allow the Great Poet of the universe to speak his truth to my heart, I am happy to let him be the Lord of my words and the Lord of my life.

May God continue to wash over me with his grace, to clean out those rooms still filled with unsettled dreams and undiscovered pain, and to speak through the trials and the triumphs of my journey so that my words — my poetic, apologetic words — may sing out its sweet song of salvation to those whose hearts are longing for a word that will rouse them from the slumber of death to the dawn of redemption in Christ.

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