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Wendell Berry Taught Me to Preach

Lessons from “How to Be a Poet.”
Wendell Berry Taught Me to Preach
Image: Amy Wallot / AP Images

I was a poet long before I wanted to be a preacher, but when I entered the ministry, I thought poetry was a distraction, something that needed to be put to the side for the sake of the serious work of the pulpit.

What I’d failed to realize was that good preaching requires a poetic vision, the ability to speak to the heart and discern what is hidden beneath the subtext of life. The skills and sensitivities that I had developed as a poet were also needed to make me a good preacher. In abandoning poetry, I lost my ability to see past the superfluous and into the human heart.

The Caribbean poet Derek Walcott famously said, “I have never separated the writing of poetry from prayer. I have grown up believing it is a vocation, a religious vocation.” The poet and the preacher share more than they realize, and the preacher stands to learn a great deal from the poet. Wendell Berry’s poem “How to Be a Poet” outlines what it takes to be a great poet and in turn illuminates ...

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