Scripture and Blackout Poetry
The PHPC pastoral team was sitting around a table at Tacodeli a few weeks ago brainstorming ways that we could be creative in the Worship at Five space with our new sermon series: “Reading Between the Lines”, an exploration of how we read scripture inspired by Rob Bell’s What is the Bible? (which we highly encourage you to read!).
Kathy Lee-Cornell suggested that we utilize blackout poetry as a means of creatively exploring this theme, as a way of “reading between the lines” of scripture to find new meaning for our lives today.
What’s amazing about scripture is that we can come back to the same passage time and time again and read it completely differently based on the season of life we find ourselves in. Scripture consistently presents new messages of hope and grace, no matter what’s going on- we just have to be able to listen and to pay attention.
The practice of blackout poetry offers us one way to hear these new messages in scripture. By blacking out words and phrases in text that are not speaking to you in that particular moment, and circling or boxing words and phrases that are speaking to you, new meaning springs forth from the page.
On Sunday night, Matthew led the Worship at Five congregation through creating blackout poems using Luke 4:14-21, the story of Jesus reading from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue in Nazareth (see pictures below). To encourage continued creation, we have a prayer station set up in the space with additional texts (scriptures, creeds, and even hymns!) for people to engage with at home or during worship. Join us for Worship at Five in the next three weeks to make your own poem!
Additionally, Kathy found a website that prints text on large pieces of felt and so we printed Genesis 1:1-7 on fabric – one felt print is on the children’s table in Founder’s with smaller pieces of black felt to blackout words, and we hung the other print on a whiteboard where people can use blue tape to mark out words; it’s a work in progress and all are invited to participate. We also used four completed blackout poems to adorn our communion table.
So now it’s your turn! Take some time to create your own blackout poem using these step by step instructions.
+ Select a text. Copy the text (from Bible Gateway, or another online resources) into a word document and format it how you want it, then print. On Sunday evening, we used Luke 4:14-21. Here are some other texts you might use:
- Psalm 121
- Matthew 5: 1-12
- Psalm 23
- John 1: 1-9
- Psalm 139
- Mark 14: 22-25
- The Apostles Creed
- Hymns or songs that are meaningful to you/your community
+ Using a black marker (we used chisel tip Sharpies), first read through the text and circle or box words and phrases that speak to you, words that give you hope, phrases that whisper good news, things that you latch onto.
+ Next, begin to black out/strike through words and phrases that do not speak to you,
words that confuse you or rub you the wrong way, phrases that don’t sit right with you at this particular moment.
+ Alternatively, you might form your poem first (like I did in the adjacent image) – linking words into a phrase or sentence that creates meaning, and then blacking out the rest of the reading. This is the way that I typically approach this activity.
+ Get creative! Rather than simply blacking everything out, create a design around the words, forming images or patterns.
May all your endeavors be creative! I hope that this will provide you with a new way to read and reflect on scripture. If you want to practice blackout poetry in community, join us for Worship at Five, Sunday evenings at 5 p.m. in Founder’s Hall—we would love to see you there!