The Spirituality of Poetry (Adult Summer Course)
Term: Summer 2019, June 10–July 22 (off for week of July 4th)
Target Grade Levels: Adults
Schedule: 1x / week, 60–75 min.
Section 1: Mon. 8:00 p.m. ET with Fr. Porphyrios (formerly Dr. James Taylor) (Registration for this section has closed.)
In the English speaking West, the anthologies of traditional and modern poetry are largely Protestant; that is, while the authors may or may not be practicing Protestants, for the most part they write from a post-Roman Catholic European and American world view. The best of this literature is not dogmatic or staunchly attached to one confession or another. Because these authors, from Chaucer, (14th century) who was Catholic, to W.H. Auden (modern), our poets possess that indescribable gift of the “muse” that inspires them to say things that are true, sometimes in spite of themselves! Therefore, to be educated in the natural sense, not in formal academic programs, we must give these writers of poems our attention.
Poets often say things beautifully, and when combined with truth, lift us up to a natural wisdom of the human and humane condition on earth where the invisible world and sacred often peer through as a first light to our minds and hearts. Lasting, original poetry can act as a way of preparation for the spiritual sense of Creation and Being. Truly this is a natural phenomena. It is with a serious mind that Elder St. Poryphyrios says, “to be a Christian one must be a poet.”
Generally, the Native Americans recognized a Great Wisdom of the world and our affinity with its Nature long before the first Christian missionaries reached them. From Homer to Shakespeare, poetry at its best can give our intellects and hearts an awakening of our ability to glimpse the wonder of the invisible world we live in. In its way, poetry is an intellectual and emotive prelude to the Faith. Consider the universal popularity of Shakespeare or Robert Frost. Why is this true all over the world? If the poem says something people of all tongues and races find is always true about the human experience, then it must also indicate a unity in our souls, even if the author is not of the Orthodox creed, or even those among the “unchurched”, as was mentioned about the spiritual intuitions of the Native Americans.
However, the teacher of this body of poetry either must be Orthodox or in sympathy with the poetic liturgical and theological life of Orthodoxy; that is, to the universal truths held within incarnated matter of One God, poetically expressed in Orthodox liturgies and in Holy Scripture, present themselves intuitively to mind and heart, not by scientific and mathematical reasoning. Remember that to analyze means to take apart, step by step, often until there is nothing left of the original; whereas, to synthesize is to see how all the parts are integrated and whole.
On the other hand, the Orthodox teacher must not turn these masterpieces into personal sermons or worse, “moral lessons”. In fact, the poems selected will “teach” themselves as the teacher carefully assists students to find truth and beauty of the poem and in themselves by way of classroom conversation that encourages them to come forward with their spontaneous first impressions of the poem. Once the student is engaged with the poem, even at a basic level, favorite line or two, for example, where they like the way it sounds, appeals to them prior to theorizing on possible “hidden meanings”.
Asking students to freely explore where the beauty of the poetic music is, they will usually compare these lines with their own memory of experiences of beauty, or ugliness, or rightness and error. Then the poem is theirs. They are making it their own. This requires reflection, which means to bend back; the teacher does not seek to stimulate the already over stimulated imagination which becomes fantasy, but rather to awaken and enliven the memory, even the memory of Paradise, or the vision of a life without such aesthetic memories which, alas, makes up a great deal of modern life. Finally, two or three Psalms of King David will be presented as the example par excellence of the greatest of spiritual and mystical poetry.
All poems to be read and conversed about in class will be sent to members of the class a few days ahead of our meetings. You will not need a textbook. Homework consists of 1) reading the poem when you receive it, 2) then reading it aloud, 3) then read it one more time before class. Students will be asked to read the poem aloud in class. We are convinced that the meaning of a poem is often released and given life by the human voice as it gives nurturing warmth to the words that seemed at first obscure and unknowable.
All courses materials will be provided by the instructor.
Fr. Porphyrios (Dr. James Stephen Taylor) was born in Chicago, Illinois, and raised in Columbia, Missouri, where he attended the public schools and the University of Missouri. He received his bachelor’s degree in humanities and his master’s degree in English from Southern Illinois University. The University of Kansas, Lawrence, was the setting for his doctorate in philosophy of education, and was where he attended courses in the famous Integrated Humanities Program with Professors John Senior and Dennis Quinn. At KU he taught freshmen and sophomore English and literature, and undergraduate and graduate courses in the philosophy of education. Upon graduation Taylor taught in a variety of middle and high school schools, parochial schools, and preparatory academies, including St. Mary’s Academy (Kansas), Wichita Collegiate School, and Topeka Collegiate School. For five years he was assistant, then associate professor of the education department at Hillsdale College, Michigan. Two of those years he served as department chair. He held regular classes using the Good and Great Books as part of the teacher preparation program. His last collegiate position was at the University of Tulsa, also in the department of education, where his specialties were philosophy of education in the graduate school, and children’s literature classes for elementary and middle school future teachers. Dr. Taylor is also the author of Poetic Knowledge, a book often used and cited in the renewal of classical Christian education.
Dr. Taylor’s father, a newspaperman and writer for the Associated Press, became editor of the Missouri Alumnus magazine and a popular speaker. His mother was a fourth grade teacher and librarian for Columbia public schools. James Taylor was raised in the Methodist church. His journey to Orthodoxy may have well begun there while, during a lengthy sermon, he gazed at the engraving on the wooden pulpit: “The Truth Shall Make You Free.” He was pleasantly surprised years later to learn that John Wesley, founder of Methodism, was an Anglican minister deeply read in the Fathers of the Church. Later, he began a tour through the various expressions of Roman Catholicism, particularly traditional Benedictine monasticism, then spent several years with a Byzantine Rite, and finally arriving, somewhat broken but not beyond repair, at peace in the Orthodox Church.
After a five year odyessy, Taylor has now been tonsured monk as Fr. Porphyrios, and resides in a monastery in northwest Missouri.
Computer: You will need a stable, reliable computer, running with processor with a speed of 1 Ghz or better on one of the following operating systems: Mac OS X with MacOS 10.6 (Snow Leopard) or later; Windows 8, 7, Vista (with SP1 or later), or XP (with SP3 or later). We do NOT recommending using an iPad or other tablet for joining classes. An inexpensive laptop or netbook would be much better solutions, as they enable you to plug an Ethernet cable directly into your computer. Please note that Chromebooks are allowed but not preferred, as they do not support certain features of the Zoom video conference software such as breakout sessions and annotation, which may be used by our teachers for class activities.
High-Speed Internet Connection: You will also need access to high-speed Internet, preferably accessible via Ethernet cable right into your computer. Using Wi-Fi may work, but will not guarantee you the optimal use of your bandwidth. The faster your Internet, the better. We recommend using a connection with an download/upload speed of 5/1Mbps or better. You can test your Internet connection here.
Headset: We recommend using a headset rather than a built-in microphone and speakers. Using a headset reduces the level of background noise heard by the entire class.
Headset Recommendations: USB | 3.5mm
Zoom: We use a web conferencing software called Zoom for our classes, which enables students and teachers to gather from around the globe face to face in real time. Zoom is free to download and easy to use.
To download Zoom:
- Visit zoom.us/download.
- Click to download the first option listed, Zoom Client for Meetings.
- Open and run the installer on your computer.
- In August, students will be provided with instructions and a link for joining their particular class.
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