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poetry – jody kilpatrick


After a break of fifteen years, I recovered sufficiently from high-school analysis to enjoy poetry. I am very curious about what poets can teach preachers.

The main lesson for me is the possibility of profound brevity; memorable lines and word pictures that can be recalled and explored on various levels. I love words, saying something just so gives me immense satisfaction. I believe the less we say, the more space we leave for people to hear (and consider, and integrate).

There’s an art to making sure that brevity doesn’t undermine the fulsome truths giving it a leg up.

I leave a lot unsaid in sermons. I could write most sermons twice over with my unused research and reflection. The risk is never getting to the nitty gritty, gliding poetically over the surface. I do go deep – I just don’t attempt to do so with many aspects at a time.

Prayer and meditation help me distill what to say, and what to let go.

Poets can afford to be short when dealing with cultural knowledge of cabbage trees and sandwiches – it’s harder when your subject matter is Trinity and Ark of the Covenant. The rest of the church service can feed into the sermon rather than serve as a warm up. My recent Trinity Sunday sermon which referred to Psalm 8 and the Ark of the Covenant benefited from a wonderfully creative parishioner organising exploding volcanos and ark making prior.

I like to imagine a sermon turns on a light switch for people and with it on they can take a look around. Some might only glance for the duration of the sermon, others might scrutinise long after I finish talking, and others might meditate on one important sight.

I’m a long way from figuring this all out. I have a sense it wouldn’t work if we all preached like poets all of the time. But it would be a pity if some of us didn’t try. Sometimes.


  1. Greg Liston says:

    Awesome, Jody!

  2. I really like this, and have been thinking about it over the last day or so.

    Some scattered thoughts:

    I like your thought about poetry contributing to the memorable-ness of a sermon. I heard a preacher two weeks ago speak about the woman with the alabaster jar, and the way she wove ‘sinner’ and ‘dinner’ into the same sentence was, well, more poetic than I can make it sound here, but it was great, and stuck with me, and is enough to recall more of her tone and message.

    You say maybe we shouldn’t all preach like poets all the time. Who knows? But one demographic that may particularly appreciate poetry in sermons is the ‘mature Christian’ who has heard many expository messages over the years on each text we preach on. Perhaps a poetic window into introspection, indwelling the text, and quirky leaps of thought is just what they need for fresh insight and interest.

  3. Jody says:

    Thanks Greg, and thanks Thalia. You are very wise to think of a group who may particularly be helped by this approach to preaching. Also, now I want to preach a sermon on dinner and sinner! 🙂

    1. Susan M. says:


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