“Poiema”: A Poem

I was inspired to write a poem this morning, which is personally important because I have not published anything here for a while, and I have barely written anything other than midterms and seminary papers for the last few months.

This is how it went: I was up too late last night/this morning reading a book on justification for seminary. At one point in this book, the exegete got around to Ephesians 2:10 and casually remarked in passing that the text should be translated:

For we are His poem, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

The word translated as “workmanship” in the NASB is the Greek word poiema, from which we get our English word “poem.” I somewhat understand why the translators came to their decision to translate it otherwise, but the idea that Christians, the body of Christ, are God’s poem electrifies me. I think “poem” holds such rich particularity and such glorious implications, and I have long been disappointed with the bland, generic term “workmanship.”

I say “long been disappointed” because this is not the first time I have heard this idea of Christians being God’s poiema, yet it struck me this morning once again and with refreshed force, as old ideas have a habit of doing sometimes. This gave me an initial idea for a poem that would explore a question that suddenly intrigued me: What happens when one of God’s poems is itself a poet?

I wrote a poem exploring this question in brief, but that’s not the poem you will eventually (I hope) be reading because the poem I wrote at first did not feel right, no matter how much I edited it.

Eventually I realized the problem: I wasn’t asking the right question. As I re-read the words “God’s poems” a few times, they felt more and more off. Why? The text in Ephesians doesn’t say or indicate that God writes poems (plural), but that he wrote or is writing a poem (singular), of which individual Christians (including poets) are parts. Perhaps each of us is a stanza, or a line or two, or a few words in God’s epic poem, but none of us is the/a complete poem. None of us are a complete work without our brothers and sisters.

Contemporary Christians, myself firmly and obviously included, have a tendency to read passages like this individualistically, and my initial poem had done the same, perhaps worse than all.

So I needed to explore a very similar, but significantly different question to be accurate and biblical. Namely: What does it mean for poets to be verses/stanzas of God’s poem? My edited question didn’t seem as punchy, playful, tight, or reflexive as my first, but it allowed me to explore some important ambiguities that I think proved fruitful. I hope it’s an encouragement this morning. Whether or not you’re a poet, if you’re part of Christ’s body, you’re part of God’s poem—an ever-creative manifestation of his righteousness.

Poiema

What happens when,
in the course of his poem,
God writes a poet?

Or does he write himself, the Poet,
through a journaling of verse?
Does he discover he’s in print
at least, albeit still obscure?
Does he read himself reading himself
until the crowd finally blushes?
Does he edit himself free in us
of all our misconstructions?
Does he write himself, the Poet?
Does he compose what he composes?

Or does he forget himself—
a few lines,
from the beginning, middle, or end,

all of which
God always remembers.

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