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House Church: Domestic Liturgies | 7.1 Poet Brent Newsom

Trevor Sutton

Dishes7.1 poet Brent Newsom draws connections between writing poetry and doing the dishes via liturgies. I’ve recently been reading Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, James K. A. Smith’s follow-up to Desiring the Kingdom. Both books center on the notion that “liturgies”—using that word not in the usual, ecclesial sense per se, but to describe rhythms of repeated actions that shape one’s “habitude” and sense of self—are integral to spiritual formation, whether an individual is conscious of and deliberate about them or not. So I’d been thinking about rituals and rhythms well before the Relief editors asked me to reflect on what liturgies most affect my writing, and his invitation looked like a bit of serendipity right there in my inbox.

Of course right away a piece of me wished to say that a steady diet of prayer, or meditation on the words of Jesus, or some other appropriately spiritual discipline is what inspires me. This journal is, after all, subtitled A Christian Literary Expression, and those are the things Christians are supposed to do, right? But that was the dissembling, self-righteous piece of me talking (which, to be honest, is the same piece as the rest of me).

The truth is much less holy, or at least less holy-looking. If I look clearly at my poems, it’s obvious that the rituals that truly shape my writing revolve around my home, my family. Working in the garden with my wife. (This morning, for example: hunting down the cursed stem-boring worms ravaging our zucchini.) Bathing my four-year-old son and twenty-month-old daughter every other night. (Then wrangling them into pajamas, reading a book and a Bible story, saying good night, and trying not to lose my patience each time they cry or get out of bed.) Scrubbing the dishes in the sink. (One rhythm my wife wishes were more regular.)

Part of Smith’s point in Imagining the Kingdom is that liturgies, or repeated rituals, shape the imagination. This makes sense to me, because just about all art, formally, boils down to repetition and variation. That’s what rhythm is: unstressed stressed, unstressed stressed, unstressed unstressed stressed. Subject verb. Subject verb. Introductory dependent clause, subject verb.

So it’s often through the daily rituals with my family that God forms me into something more whole. And often it’s through those rituals that faith enters into my writing. Wake. Eat. Garden. Work. Eat. Write. Eat. Bathe. Sleep. Repeat.

And don’t forget to wash the dishes.

Brent Newsom’s poems have appeared in The Southern ReviewSubtropicsPANKThe Hopkins ReviewCave Wall, and other journals and anthologies. New work is forthcoming in Birmingham Poetry Review and REAL: Regarding Arts & Letters. He is also working on a novel set in China, for which he received a Fulbright fellowship. A Louisiana native, he earned a PhD from Texas Tech University, where he held editorial posts with 32 Poemsand Iron Horse Literary Review. With his wife and two children, he now lives in Oklahoma, where he is Assistant Professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University.