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Teach Us How to Pray: Poetry and Prayer

  • Course Dates: Thu 19 November 2020, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm

Prayer is not something that we always know how to do, or how to do ‘well’.

In times of crisis or uncertainty, trying to pray can feel like descending into chaos. Looking forward to Advent as a time of prayer and reflection, this day turns to the poets to teach us how to pray. True prayer is something that we do with our whole selves: through silence, stillness and the movement of our bodies, in our breath, in our cries and, finally, in words.

Poets are not just crafters of words or meaning-makers but also guides in the art of paying attention – to God and the world. They are explorers on the threshold of silence, human beings who enable us to inhabit our bodies more fully, sensitive souls who give expression to our wordless cries. Through a mixture of close reading, reflection, discussion and creative activities, this day provides food for spiritual, ministerial and missional practice as the days grow dark.

Session 1: Teach Us to Pray – Poets Address the Problem of Prayer 


In Romans 8.26 Paul writes that ‘we do not know how to pray’. This session opens up what Karl Barth called ‘the problem of prayer’: at the same time necessary, but impossible. It introduces the poet as a guide in the spiritual art of paying attention, a window into prayer. It looks at nature poetry, the psalm-poems of Michael Symmons Roberts and the meditations of Simone Weil.

Session 2: Sighs too Deep for Words – Moving into Silence


Great mystics and great poets have one thing in common: their affinity with silence. This session explores how poets move readers towards the edge of silence by stretching words to their limits. It will look at the affinity between poetry and meditative practices of breathing through the lens of mystic John of the Cross, Anglican priest George Herbert, Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke and performance poet Kae Tempest.

Session 3: Speaking in Tongues – Body and Spirit 


From kneeling to raising hands, shaking to physical collapse, this session explores the role of the body in prayer through the lens of liberation theologian Rubem Alves, Jamaican poet Kei Miller, American Catholic poet Denise Levertov and former poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy. This session looks at speech as an embodied practice and draws connections between private and public prayer.

Session 4: The Cries of our Hearts – Creativity and Prayer


This final session draws together reflections from the day with a meditation on Romans 8.14-26 and the role of the Spirit in prayer. It explores how creativity can itself be a form of prayer, expressing the wordless cries of our hearts. This session will encourage some creative responses to the themes and poems of the day.

Book your place 

Note this course is part of the Salisbury Diocese CMD programme – book this

Visit the Sarum Blog for Dr Beth Dodd’s reflections on the Words of Life and Death poetry series

Please note there has been a change of tutor, Professor Mark Burrows (details below) will lead this day.

courses@sarum.ac.uk  |  01722 424800 (main reception)

Course Details

Thu 19 November 2020
10:00 am to 4:00 pm
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Sarum College
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Sarum College

Mark Burrows is an historian of medieval Christianity, faculty member at the Protestant University of Applied Sciences in Bochum, Germany. His research and writing has focused on the mystics, visionaries, and poets who often found themselves living and working at the margins of Christianity.
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Course Price:
Online course £60