Slideshow image

All these great barns out here in the outskirts,
black creosote boards knee-deep in the bluegrass.
They look so beautifully abandoned, even in use.
You say they look like arks after the sea’s
dried up, I say they look like pirate ships,
and I think of that walk in the valley where
J said, You don’t believe in God? And I said,
No. I believe in this connection we all have
to nature, to each other, to the universe.
And she said, Yeah, God. And how we stood there,
low beasts among the white oaks, Spanish moss,
and spider webs, obsidian shards stuck in our pockets,
woodpecker flurry, and I refused to call it so.
So instead, we looked up at the unruly sky,
its clouds in simple animal shapes we could name
though we knew they were really just clouds—
disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.

~ Ada Limón

Ada Limón is the current Poet Laureate of the United States, the first Latina to be so named. This poem is, on one level, a theological poem about refusing to interpret the world theologically. And at the same time, on another level, it’s a playful exploration of the different kinds of poetry we use to interpret the world: theological and secular, scientific and spiritual, serious and whimsical, each from our own distinctive point of view.

In the end, these lines form a playground for thinking about this fantastically diverse world of different faiths and no faith at all, full of perspectives and disagreements and opportunities to walk together through beautiful places. After all, even the most exquisite theology — like the most exquisite chemistry, or ecology, or poetry — can’t possibly capture the world’s wonder and mystery; the very best we can do is offer a humble sketch and suggestion here and there, like naming the shapes we make out in the clouds.

It’s good to remember this. Next week is the birthday of St. Augustine of Hippo, the North African genius who famously wrote that trying to understand and describe the divine Trinity is like a child digging a hole in the sand along the seashore, hoping to pour the ocean into the hole. It can’t be done, of course. And yet we try.

And in the trying, we describe what it all looks like to us, walking together through the valley of life, filled as it is with beautiful barns, and mosses, and clouds, and seas — more interconnected marvels than we could ever hope to name.

Our thanks to the Salt Project.