On a cold winter night few years ago, I found myself in a warm living room in the hills of Texas waiting for pastor, author, and Christian imagineer Eugene Peterson to walk in. He quietly came in and moved toward his seat on a couch among the small group of pastors and church leaders.
As he stood to speak, I leaned forward for dear life:
Wanting information to inspire any reason to continue vocational ministry as I knew it. I was exhausted by what I was doing, where I was doing it, and with whom. I had even forgotten why I should continue.
He smiled and thanked us for being there and without hesitation said,
“When I read a poem I don’t have more information; I have a new experience.”
I didn’t need more information about what I was doing, I needed a new experience with “why…” that I could draw from and be moved by when I felt thirsty or stuck.
I was so positively disrupted by his words that I stopped listening to the great Eugene Peterson (still embarrassed about that) and started writing a poem. A four-word poem that would become the prose for my work’s purpose.
Unearthed beauty from brokenness.
I didn’t need more information about what I was doing, I needed a new experience with “why.” His words shifted my unhappy ending into a longing for a pure beginning. A verb, noun, preposition, and another noun became the poetic well and wheel that I could draw from and be moved by when I felt thirsty or stuck.
This “Four-Word Why Poem” isn’t the source of my energy when I am low. My source is God, but it is a mental and emotional cue to seek the source. It’s the poem I tell myself throughout the day to discover the moral of my story and to enliven the morale of my career as a Curator of Human Potential.
Still, sometimes the trauma of everyday challenges gives me a personal amnesia. The amnesia is paralyzing until I remember the passion in the poetry of my “Four-Word Why Poem.” Without it, I tell the worst stories to myself about myself and everyone around me.
Over the years, I have learned that every interrogative is an artery that branches out of the heart of our work in the world, the “Why!”
When we are more focused on informing the what, the who, the how, the where, and the when, those arteries get clogged up and we soon suffer from a heart attack that makes us lose heart for the work we are doing.
From the “why” we can better inform the what, who, and how of life and ministry.
That same motivation in prose can be both the wrecking ball and the balm that simultaneously breaks down and heals the flow of ideas and imaginations.
What is your “Four-Word Why Poem?” What verb, noun, preposition, and noun represent the poetry of your “why?” Be positively disruptive and write it down now! Awaken from your own amnesia through this project of the soul. It could turn problems into possibilities, and junk into jazz, giving a static soul a new rhythm for life.
Marlon Hall is a curator of human potential who has worked to curate multiple social innovations in the cities of Houston, TX, Detroit, MI, and Nairobi, Kenya. Trained in Anthropology, he has gone from irritation to intrigue to innovation to curate projects like The Eat Gallery (the only restaurant / culinary art gallery in the world that incubated seven culinary artists and restaurants) to Folklore Films (a film project commissioned by the mayor of the city of Houston to tell better stories to Houston about Houston, one folkloric character at a time).