Religion as Poetry 2016


Mark Oakley's lecture can be viewed here: 


‘We look for God in the multi-layered languages of music and poetry’

This was the theme of the event in Mayfield-Salisbury Church on Saturday evening May 28,2016.   The guest speaker was the Revd Canon Mark Oakley, Canon Chancellor at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, noted author and preacher. Mark was introduced by the minister of Mayfield Salisbury, Revd Scott McKenna.

The full address may be watched / heard on our front page
In his exploration of the theme Canon Oakley stressed that reality is not mirrored neatly in the recitation of any creed.  Faith is not a proud self-consistent philosophy.  It is a living response to the grace of God as revealed in fragile lives.
Poetry is a soul language.  We need to familiarise ourselves with it for it does not work like ordinary speech.  It may confuse us a bit at first, but confusion is part of the journey of life.  Poetry is a language of possibilities; it can be spiritually important.  The difficult times in life as in poetry may be the most significant.  The splash of words can begin to ripple outwards and help our spiritual development to take place.
God gives us our Being; we give back our Becoming.
All religions are foundationally poetic (they then become something else).  Hindu scriptures were drawn from hundreds of poems.  Our Old Testament contains a huge variety of poems: psalms, the Song of Songs, the prophets with their allusions.  The Gospels reveal the artistry of the evangelists.  The parables are made up stories to proclaim their inner messages.  Jesus never says what the Kingdom of God is, just what it is like.
Poetry and stories are there to make us better.  Truth comes in this form, not in creeds.  Truth is too important to be prosaic.  It speaks for us the language of love, so surely this is the heart of religion.
Poetry challenges our first impressions.  It stops us sleep-walking into the ready assumption that first impressions must be set in stone which will last for ever.
People today want quick information: the news bulletin. the world-wide-web.  But we need more than information, we need transformation.  “Relevance” has gone tomorrow; resonance stays.
The poets in our parishes are the Christians.  As Christians we need ears to hear.  This language is a sacrament not a utensil.
The evening concluded, after an excellent buffet, with a period of music sung by the Church’s Chamber Group and readings drawn from a wide range of poets.  This part of the evening was also greatly appreciated by the substantial audience.

NB - Mark Oakley’s book 'The Collage of God' (published by Darton, Longman and Todd) is to be followed in July by his new book 'A Splash of Words'.

(This article was written by a Mayfield Salisbury member, Revd Ralph Smith)

Mark Oakley's lecture can be viewed here: 

Mark Oakley also preached on the following morning and this can be viewed HERE

Contact Information

Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church,
18 West Mayfield,

0131 667 1522 / 0780 801 1234

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Scottish Charity Number: SC000785


  • Because God is both knowable and unknowable the tension of the symbol, the multilayers of the myth and the openness of the poetic are all vital to our desire to celebrate the Mystery to whom we relate and in whom we have our being.
    Mark Oakley

  • You must love him as he is: neither God, nor spirit, nor image; even more, the One without commingling, pure, luminous ...

    Meister Eckhart

  • The purpose of our life is God's glory. However lowly a life is, that is what makes it great.
    Oscar Romero

  • Faith may justify bigotry or fanaticism, as Church history tragically witnesses. It needs a safeguard. If it is not animated as it were by the greatest of the theological virtues (love), faith can become defective.
    Thomas Norris

  • Dry not, dry not, your tears of love eternal! Only to eyes that fail to weep does this world seem so dull and dead. Dry not, dry not, those long, sad tears of love.
    Johann von Goette

  • The post modern paradigm manifests itself as a unity which preserves diversity and diversity which strives after unity.
    David Bosch

  • There is only one assertion that requires no evidence. Children are a sacred trust...Unless we care properly for our children, we shall never build a better world.
    'A Good Childhood’ The Children’s Society

  • These are only hints and guesses, hints followed by guesses; and the rest is prayer.
    'The Dry Salvages' T.S.Eliot

  • According to strict truth, God is incomprehensible, and incapable of being measured.

  • Myth is a story about the way things never were, but always are.
    Thomas Mann

  • In the darkness ...The child of your love - and now become as the most hated one - the one You have thrown away as unwanted - unloved ..... The darkness is so dark .... I have no faith.
    Mother Teresa

  • I love the Bible. I owe my faith and my life to the Bible and its liberating message. It is in the Bible that I first met Jesus ... I too am included in God's embrace.
    Gene Robinson

  • It is this great absence that is like a presence, that compels me to address it without hope of a reply ....
    R.S. Thomas

  • Faith is not a proud self-consistent philosophy. It involves maintaining oneself between contradictions that can't be solved by analysis. It is therefore a living response to the grace of God as revealed in fragile lives.
    Mark Oakley

  • Any religion which does not say that God is hidden is not true.
    Blaise Pascal

  • The contemporary Church is losing aspects of its wide and generous memory and therefore condemning itself to become a 'swimming pool Church' - one that has all the noise coming from the shallow end.
    Mark Oakley

  • For all your doctrinal headaches take Paradox.
    Mark Oakley

  • The true vision and the true knowledge of what we seek consists precisely in not seeing, in an awareness that our goal transcends all knowledge and is everywhere cut off from us by the darkness of incomprehensibility.
    St Gregory of Nyssa

  • Death, death be hanged, the Lord has promised me that I shall live. This I believe!
    Martin Luther

  • We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life have not been put to rest.

  • Religion is the flight of the alone to the Alone.

  • Stupid clergymen appeal quite directly to a Bible passage directly understood ....
    Soren Kirkegaard

  • What is the point of the arts of reading and criticism as long as the ecclesiastical interpretation of the Bible, Protestant as well as Catholic, is cultivated as ever?
    Friedrich Nietzsche

  • A figure like Ecclesiast, rugged and luminous, chants in the dark a text that is the answer, although obscure.
    Wallace Stevens

  • Myth is the poetry of the soul.
    Sara Maitland

  • Our loss of the ability to think mythically, poetically, allegorically, creatively, theologically, and artfully is a greater threat to our religious experience than anything good scientists have to report ...
    Sara Maitland

  • In general, Zen attitude is that words and truth are incompatible, or at least that no words can capture truth.
    Douglas Hofstadter

  • 'God' is a one word poem
    Rowan Williams

  • What is today? Today is eternity.
    Meister Eckhart

  • Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things.
    Meister Eckhart

  • The most powerful hunger we have, mostly suppressed and misdirected, is the hunger for God.
    Miroslav Volf

  • We frequently judge that things are as we wish them to be, for through personal feeling true perspective is easily lost.
    Thomas a Kempis

  • Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.
    Rabindranath Tagore

  • God is the beyond in our midst.
    Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  • 'God is not the answer, God is the question.'
    Herbert McCabe