“What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10)
By poetic language we sometimes learn empathy and gain wisdom for what neighbor love can require of us. Moses writes the historical headline of Abel’s death by using the poetic metaphor of “blood crying out.” We too learn from God in this way how poetic language takes our hand and walks with us down the sometimes back alleys of our days.
In the poetry of the Bible for example, the Psalmist gives voice to describe what a murderous heart does (Psalm 10:8-11). By means of these words, God enables us to see how neighbor-love gets broken like twigs thrust down with hands upon our legs.
He sits in ambush in the villages;
in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
The helpless are crushed, sink down,
and fall by his might.
He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”
As human beings, we imitate God in this way. Our language is not His nor perfect as His is. But for example, in her prize-winning collection entitled, Slamming Open the Door, Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno gives voice to what it is like as a human being to recover from the murder of one’s own child. She provides us words for what it is like to walk through the burned out remains of neighbor love when it is torched like this. I often think to myself when reading about such providences in the lives of others–“what would grace require of me to serve such a family if I was their pastor and if with me they looked for Jesus and His grace in the wreckage?” Kathleen helps us if we can learn to listen. She enables us to feel her rage for justice in Sticks and Stones or how one’s imagination goes into anguish in Nighttime Prayer or what it is like to hear the horrible news you cannot stop from coming in How to Find Out. The subject matter is thick enough. The poet assumes we know that already. So, she wastes no time with morbid or maudlin descriptions. She simply tells us who want to care What Not to Say.
“Don’t say you choked on a chicken bone once and then make the sound, kuh, kuh, and say you bet that’s how she felt . . . and you whisper I think of you every day, Don’t finish with because I’ve been going to Weight Watchers on Tuesdays and wonder if you want to go to.”