I am not a poet. And I know it.
However, I am occasionally surprised when poetic verse somehow leaks out of my pen and onto paper. I want to share one of those leaky pieces with you here not just because it’s a poem, but because it’s a poem about art, faith, and imagination. I think, although it was not my original intent, that there might be a message here for parents, like those of the Story Warren, who are stewarding the nascent imaginations of their children. The songwriter in me likes to keep my poems short and (hopefully) tight:
ON PANES OF GRACE
Windows made of ink and light,
Of color, note, and line;
Dim glass portals fixed within
This mortal frame of time.
On panes of grace we trace the fragile
Shades of His design:
Creator God, created and creation;
Hints of places just beyond our grasping.
Guided by the artist’s hands
We ‘verse the vale of time;
Seeing through the artist’s heart
We hold the hope divine.
(Clay Clarkson, 2007)
This poem was born out of an intuitive vision I had contemplating the role of the artist in my life of faith. I envisioned myself inside an enclosed room, walled in on all sides by this thing called time. Beyond the solid, opaque walls of my time box was eternity. The works of artists—words, music, art, photography—became hazy windows through which I could catch glimpses of what lies outside those walls. Artists provide these portals, or panes of grace, that enable me to “traverse the valley of time” and to find the hope of eternity with God. Their art lets light in so I can see.
So what’s the point for parenting in all this? I have two points: (1) poetry is powerful, and (2) artistic vision is empowering. Let me unpack each of those.
First, poetry is powerful. It is “the artistic use of words, rhyme, meter, structure, and thought that goes far beyond just communicating to creating an artistic verbal expression of beauty, goodness, and truth. Poetry is the most complex form of literary expression, not just for the poet but also for the reader.” 1 Consider the processes at work when your child hears a poem: concentration on lyrical meter and structure, perception of words and emotions, interpretation of abstract thoughts and concepts, synthesizing meaning from the poetic elements.
Poetry is high-octane linguistic fuel for your child’s emerging imagination, and for their faith. When you read a poem aloud and ask your child to narrate back to you what they have heard, you are engaging the same process that God asks us to exercise when we read the Bible and respond in faith. They are not just parroting back raw content from words, but also meanings, emotions, ideas, beliefs, and more. Poetry is like verbal calisthenics that strengthen your child’s faith muscles.
Second, artistic vision is empowering. When you cultivate in your child a personal vision for using their own imago dei artistic gifts, you empower them to become communicators of God’s goodness, beauty, and truth through their imagination and creative abilities. It is encouraging to know you can paint well or sing well; but it is empowering to know your artistic skills can open windows of understanding to let in the light of God for others. That kind of artistic vision plants in your child’s spirit the belief that God can use their creative efforts for his glory.
I believe the critical time in a child’s life for releasing the artistic imagination is in the 12-16-year-old window. At a time when most parents begin doubling down on academics, I believe that is when your children need extra time and opportunity to discover their creative gifts, and to find and release the message that God has put in their hearts. I believe artistic vision is either found or lost in those years. If a child is empowered by it at the right time, it can propel them into a life of creative power and impact for God.
Try reading my poem to your older children or young teens and see if they get the picture about the role of the artist in our lives. Talk about what their creative gifts might be and what kinds of windows they would want to create to let in light so others can see. Explore what kinds of messages God might be developing in their hearts, and in what ways they could communicate those messages creatively. Let them know that God wants them to be creative artists for his glory.
Poetry and artistic vision are certainly not the only means to raise up an artistically empowered child, ready to hang his or her light-giving panes of grace on the walls of time, but they are great places to start. Maybe your child will bring light to many who will see God through their artist’s heart. That idea calls for a poem, but I’ll let someone else write it. My pen is not leaking today.
1 Educating the WholeHearted Child, Third Edition, by Clay Clarkson (Apologia Press, 2011)