When Church Language Fails Us, We Resist With Poetry

Melisa Pomero

Writer in GearMonster


Note: A version of this essay was given as a talk at Women Doing Theology 2018, at the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary on November 9, 2018 in Elkhart, Ind.

As a poet, I used to compartmentalize my poetry. Christian poetry, poetry of the body, and Spanglish poetry all had their unique boxes until I came across the term theopoetics in academic scholarship. We all know how language and scholarship work. While white men are busy naming theopoetics to utilize in scholarship, women, women of color, black women, and indigenous peoples have been theopoeticizing since before Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz to the time of Macuilxochitzin.

Theopoetics is a decolonial reimagining of the Creator, God, through creative expression when the language of the church and theology have failed us. When the church cannot supply the language for what our experience is and what our liberation looks like, we engage in theopoetics as resistance. When the church does not have the language to talk about children caged en la cicatriz de la frontera, our very own U.S. Borderland, we engage in theopoetics.

In my research, theopoetics was born from postmodern theology where we see the term liberation theology birthed from a movement that sprung from [email protected] America. Rubem Alves stated that in order to do the work of theology theopoetically, one must decolonize from dogmatic and systemic thinking.

Threatened with Resurrection: Prayers and Poems from an Exiled Guatemalan is a powerful example of theopoetics. My priest gifted to me these incredible prayers and poetry from Julia Esquivel, a Guatemalteca, poet, peace activist, theologian, and former exile. Esquivel’s use of the “Our Daily Bread” prayer is one of many examples where she utilizes the form of this prayer to illustrate the need for bread and peace amidst militarization and violence against Central American gente.