Robert Frost wrote that great poetry "begins as a lump in the throat . . . a homesickness, a lovesickness." Poetry stirs something you can't explain. When it comes, you just know that it is given out of nowhere. That's when you experience radical grace. Poets try to find the perfect word to name the inner experience. The goal of great poetry is to get right to the heart of the experience so that it resonates with your own inner knowing and you can say, "Yes! That is true!"
Before 500 BCE, religion and poetry were largely the same thing. People did not presume to be able to define the Mystery. They looked for words that could describe the mystery. Poetry doesn't claim to be a perfect description as dogma foolishly does. It's a "hint half guessed," to use T. S. Eliot's phrase. That's why poetry seduces you and entices you into being a searcher for the Mystery yourself. It creates the heart leap, the gasp of breath, inspiring you to go further and deeper; you want to fill in the blanks for yourself.
Earlier this summer, I vowed to God that I would not succumb to those who cannot - or will not - grasp that music, art and poetry are portals to contemplation. These sacred gifts are ways of encountering truths and sighs too deep for human words. So no matter how opaque or stubborn, I will honor the song. Dostoevsky said, "Beauty can save the world" and I affirm his insight with my whole being. Too many of our Christian institutions don't grasp this - they treat music (and art and poetry) as gimmicks to solve attendance problems - rather than ways of being at prayer. In a culture devoid of silence - and afraid of contemplation - I have found music to be an in-between language. It is a tender midpoint between the spoken word and total silence. It is a "hint of what is half guessed." and helps us all go to those places most likely to be inspired.
Often, various forms of wordless art and music precede the mythic story. We often know things imaginally, aesthetically, or harmoniously before we know them rationally or conceptually… Art and music are not simply objects, but an experience of opening to mystical awareness. In David Loy's words, ". . . perhaps the profound pleasure we sometimes experience from listening to a Bach fugue or a Mozart piano concerto is not a distraction from that process of attuning, nor even a side-effect of it, but is that attuning... Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets, says, "Poetry is a life-cherishing force, for poems are not words, after all, but fires for the coal, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread for the hungry."
Like the masters of Zep said: "... the song remains. the same" and thank God for it!