Poetry as Soulcare with Jessica Schafer

jessicaIn this Monday’s guest post I’m happy to introduce to you poet Jessica Schafer of In Between Words.Jessica was the brave soul who joined us on the Soulsisters 09 retreat even though she did not know a single other person! (Hurrah for bravado!) While there she gifted us everyday with poetic blessings at our mealtimes, and with beautiful words for our evening readings. Now she’s here to share some of the poems that have best supported her spiritual journey. May you find a new withmate in the words offered here.


Poetry for Spiritual Sustenance

with Jessica Schafer


Poetry is often considered difficult, vague, pretentious or a nuisance we have to study for school. In a scientific, modern culture we’ve lost the feel of words, the magic of listening to carefully crafted phrases and rhythms. The truth is poetry is part of the human soul, the part that responds best to metaphors and mysteries. The part that seeks desperately to voice a beauty or an emotion almost too much for us. It’s the part of ourselves that knows just getting from point A  to B isn’t the goal, that we have to stop and linger in the unknowns. I need poetry to keep my soul alive.


Here are bits and pieces of poems that have nurtured my spirituality. Before you read, take a moment to close your eyes and breathe deeply. When you open them again, read slowly, even out loud. Try not to think in literal images, but to feel what is being said:


. . .

But when I lean over the chasm of myself—

it seems

my God is dark

and like a web: a hundred roots

silently drinking.


This is the ferment I grow out of.


More I don’t know, because my branches

rest in deep silence, stirred only by the wind.


~Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours, I, 3


. . .

If there were no grace and no kindness,


conversation would be useless, and

nothing we do would matter. Listen


to the new stories that begin every

day. If light were not beginning


again in the east, I would not now

wake and walk out inside this dawn.


~Rumi, The Soul of Rumi, “Wake and Walk Out”


You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


~Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”


Sometimes, no matter how wonderful other poets are, your own experiences can only be described by you. What does your soul want to say? Here’s one that came to me a year ago.


God came over to play one day
we raced outside yelling “last one
through the door is a slowpoke!”
and trying not to trip over our badly
tied shoelaces
I won (but God didn’t mind)

“lets build a fort”
old bricks and the loose bars
off the little wooden gate
dense bushes and a few buckets
to sit on became a medieval castle
God wanted to be the jester
so I got to be Queen

and when we got tired
of ruling our kingdom
we rolled down the hill
at the end of the garden
careful to avoid the stream
screaming with laughter
when one of us came too close

I made daisy chains
and God blew dandelion seeds
into the wind
sneezing every once in awhile
when one tickled his nose

and then it was time
for God to go home
but I didn’t mind
because I was going
to play at her house tomorrow.

Poetry is soul food. What poets do you go to for divine nourishment?


Kel October 5, 2009 at 11:47 pm

Jessica, I LOVE your poem “Playing”
thankyou for sharing it
just divine

Becky October 6, 2009 at 3:08 am

I was so touched by your readings at the retreat. Thank you for sharing some here too.

David October 6, 2009 at 3:10 am

Rumi speaks from the reflections of his heart.

I am grateful for your gifts of their insight .
Thank you for allowing the tone of such poetry
to vibrate its musical silence.

Jessica October 8, 2009 at 4:17 pm

Thanks, everyone! I love getting to share poetry with people, especially deeply spiritual poems like these!

lala October 28, 2009 at 7:47 pm

reading these is like breathing deeply for the first time in days.

Previous post:

Next post: