For me, poetry and liturgy are intimately connected. Crafting both requires attentiveness to the sacred moments in the ordinary, glimpsing the holy in the mundane, and recognizing that God shows up in the most surprising places.
In the summer of 2020, right in the middle of a global pandemic, I won first place in the “Next Great Writer” contest at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, Kentucky. What makes me proudest is not the award, though, but the write-up I received with feedback on my work from the judge, Randi Ewing.
The poems I had submitted were a series of parenting poems, and this is how she describes them:
“The heads and tails of bravery and fear in life, in parenting, in living in the world right now, runs through all of these poems. The persona of each of them struggles with how to respond to her young children’s curiosity and fears, all the while acknowledging that what she tells them one night the next night turns out to be false, that there are no easy answers to their questions or their world.”
I recognize myself in this description of my poetry, and that, perhaps, is the reason I continue to write: to capture the sacred in normal, ordinary, lived life. As Eugene Peterson said, “to eyes that see, every bush is a burning bush.”
In 2017, my husband and I published a joint collection of poetry called Joy, Hope, Faith, Believe (available for purchase here on Amazon).
My first chapbook of poems Enough for Today was released in 2012 by Finishing Line Press, the same year my eldest daughter was born. On those pages, you’ll find me trying to articulate a sacramental vision of everyday life.
Here are some kind words about the collection from three of my favorite poets:
“Elizabeth Sands Wise’s poems drive an elegant and darkly comic road on the roadmaps of memory in this beautiful collection. With an eye focused on the blood and beating heart of the natural world, these poems deftly carry human struggles and blessings in a fine and fragrant balance.”
–Aimee Nezhukumatathil, author of Lucky Fish (2011), At the Drive-In Volcano (2007), Miracle Fruit (2003), and Fishbone (2000)
“Through richly detailed language Elizabeth Sands Wise’s ENOUGH FOR TODAY speaks with a kind of refreshing honesty. From “the dirty-white gray of my great- grandmother’s ancient doilies” to “God as a momma hen…warming the eggs unhatched”– we are taken into the crisp, almost photographic world of narrative and of memory. Every detail of this collection is fresh and real, and deeply in touch with nature. I am still thinking of the “queen” bird, “ruffling her shiny black feathers and squawking when too many suitors crowd her corner.””
–Julia Johnson, author of The Falling Horse (2012) and Naming the Afternoon (2002)
“Elizabeth Sands Wise’s poems do what we want poems to do: they justify their own existence by offering us the transcendent in the ordinary, the common-place, the overlooked. They are about the often unnoticed visceral pleasures of life that permit discovery, identification, and insight. They render moments seized simply for what they have to offer – if not always joy, at least encouragement to consider, to understand, to push on, to make the most of what we have here, now, within reach. We find, finally, that they have enlarged our view, our understanding, our compassion, our faith, and our courage.”
–James Zoller, author of Living on the Flood Plain (2008) and Simple Clutter (1998)
A few of the poems I’ve written for Lexington Poetry Month over the years can found online if you search hard enough. Reliable links to the poems from 2016 are here and 2015 here at the Accents Publishing site.
A silly poem I wrote a few years ago about finding a giant zucchini in my garden can still be read here at my old blog.
And one of my poems begins the novel My Mother’s Chamomile, a novel by Susie Finkbeiner.
Anyone who follows me on Instagram (@thissacramentallife) will quickly discover that I’m a little obsessive about liturgy. It’s the prayer books, the silence, the Lectionary, the liturgical calendar, the old hymns. All of it. I love structure and the beauty of old words that force us to look outside ourselves.
I’ve taught classes at church and at our local college on the liturgical calendar and on the intersection of Worship and Hospitality. Sometimes I’ve thrown in the hands-on practice of hand lettering as part of the reflection, too, in the class “Worship, Welcome, & the Word.”
And yet I also love freshly developed reflective liturgy for congregational worship, especially if I can incorporate the Liturgical Calendar (bonus points) or the Trinity (triple word score).
I’m a Cooperative Baptist who feels at home in a Eucharist service at the Episcopal church down the street. In our house, we decorate progressively throughout Advent and celebrate twelve days of Christmas, listen to separate “Lent” and “Advent” playlists on iTunes, and aren’t surprised when our daughters play “communion” at home. Our girls can happily explain our wooden Liturgical Calendar on the wall in our dining room, and tell you which color refers to which season. Yes, we’re those kinds of parents.
You can check out some of my complete worship services recently published by Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics–one on the theme of Attentive Patience and the other on the theme of Membership. (Pay special attention to the original hymn texts, courtesy of my gifted husband.) An early draft of one of the prayers included in the Membership service first appeared here on my old blog, Texas Schmexas.
Here are a few items that have been incorporated into our Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Sunday morning worship services:
Celebratory Prayer on the Occasion of a Friend’s Baptism
A Palm Sunday Scripture Reading for Three Voices
A Prayer of Confession on Outward Appearance, Based on the Anointing of David
A Call to Worship and Prayer of Confession, Based on Exodus 1 & 2