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Matthew Wickman Gives a Spiritual Workshop on Poetry, Christ, and Conversion

At Education Week, Dr. Matthew Wickman used modern poetry to show how we can find answers to our questions through Christ.

Think about a question you have. Is it about the gospel? Or where you should move? Or what career path you need to choose?

Now imagine you can take that question to Christ, sit down with Him, and workshop it. What does that workshop look like? Maybe you need to wrestle with the question for a while before Christ helps you find the answer. Maybe Christ will point you in another direction and help you answer a different question you didn’t know you had.

Professor Matthew Wickman (English) said the questions he takes to Christ are his personal spiritual workshops where Christ “turns [his] mind to bigger and more important things.” Wickman gave a lecture at BYU Education Week 2021, where he introduced this principle of workshopping our questions with Christ by looking for Him in modern poetry. In his lecture, “Finding Christ in Modern Poetry,” Wickman discussed how poetry could “shed interesting and moving light on . . . how we encounter Christ in the world” and in our lives.

Wickman shared a poem by Denise Levertov that teaches how to find Christ through conversion. “Poetics of Faith” begins much like Levertov’s own life—separate from any religious connection. The poem starts by describing how to write a poem, but by the final stanzas, the focus shifts to Christ. Wickman pointed out that “the poem never goes back to the beginning and says, ‘That’s how you write a poem.’”

“Poetics of Faith” acts as a spiritual workshop for the question of conversion because it points to the apostle Peter’s converting experience of walking on water. Much like Peter, Levertov found Christ and became converted. For her, there was no turning back.

Another poem, “Late Sayings” by Scott Cairns, shows how we find Christ as we reach out to Him. Wickman calls Cairns’s writing an “echo” of the beatitudes Christ gives in Matthew 5 because each stanza begins with the repetition of “Blessed are” at the beginning. Wickman explained the first three stanzas are things we feel, but the last four stanzas are things we do.

In the second stanza of the poem, Cairns writes, “Blessed are those who shed their every anxious defense, / for they shall obtain consolation,” and in the final stanza, “Blessed are those who watch and pray, who seek and plead, / for they shall see, and shall be heard.”

Christ knows how we feel, and He knows the efforts we make to reach Him. The responses to each of the feelings and actions in “Late Sayings” are how Christ reaches us. Christ uses our experiences to create personal spiritual workshops that help us learn how to find Him more readily in our day-to-day lives.

Wickman concluded, “Christ is the ultimate answer to every question, large and small.”

Think of your question. Now think of Christ. What can He teach you?

Professor Wickman gave the third lecture in the BYU Education Week 2021 lecture series, Finding Christ in the Humanities. Professors Matthew Ancell and Francesca Lawson, both from the Department of Comparative Arts & Letters, gave the other two lectures in the series.