Present Help: On Thinking of God at an Angle

What do you hold onto? Where do you land when you fall?

I’ve noticed more and more how images of God’s presence that once spoke to me will empty out over time. New ways of thinking and feeling take their place. Even the most meaningful language can wear out with use, after all, and we ourselves experience the world differently as our lives shift and change.

I suspect this is why I resonated so much when a writing workshop I’m taking asked us to consider poetry that approached God from an unexpected angle. The shift or redirection of familiar imagery for the divine can confront us with new perspectives. For instance, Jacqueline Osherow’s reworking of imagery from the Psalms in her poem “III (Thrones and Psalms)” (from Dead Men’s Praise) pictures God not “on Ezekiel’s throne of sapphires” but, rather, “held aloft by the religious ladies” who recite Psalms daily. I found myself puzzling over this one but a little charmed, too. Suffice it to say, unexpected ways of envisioning the divine leave us with things to think about.

Jumping off a psalm in my own homework for this workshop, I tried writing the poem below called “Present Help.” It’s brief, as I experimented with something approaching the Japanese poetic form known as the “Mondo” (two stanzas of 5-7-7 syllables each). Within that form, I took the language of refuge and strength from Psalm 46 and reacted to it, reflecting on the tumbles of life and what a divine presence has meant to me then. 

Present Help

God is our refuge and strength.
– Psalm 46:1

I think of Her as
the last thing I’d grab when grounds
shift and crack, and I stumble. 

She’s then like nowhere
further down to go and not
much left to know but here, now.

– Callie J. Smith

What about you? Where and how do you experience divine presence these days?