It was in high school, when I stopped saying prayers, and started saying poems. Not that I gave up my religion, or my faith, but that I began asking questions. I began choosing to believe what I did based on my own desire to connect with the numinous, not simply because my parents piled us all in the car to go to church every Sunday.
And about the time I really began to think about what it meant to believe, to have faith, is about the time that I began to really dislike the idea of praying using the memorized prayers of my childhood. I didn't need to think about the words, they were just there. That didn't seem like prayer to me - I wanted to think. But at the same time, there were times that I wanted more of a focus for my thinking than simply talking to God. So I used poems.
I had my favorites, ones which spoke to my need to rejoice, to ask questions, to search for beauty, or to find support. But there were others, that I would read, and then stop and read again with intent. Some were overtly religious, but often they weren't. They were just ways to pause, to reflect, and to feel connected to something larger and more glorious than I was.
I was reminded of this last night when I read this blog from Amanda Palmer, where she talks about Rocky Horror being a kind of church. It's a metaphor that struck me as exactly right. Not just because of the ritual aspect of both (special clothing, singing, unison responses from those in attendance, and I'm stopping this list now because I can't tell if I sound like an academic or a heretic.) but that I think art is like what church ought to be.
I think art, the experience of it, stretches us outside of ourselves. It makes us dance, and rejoice, and ask questions. It makes us weep. It makes us feel connected, even if we don't know to what, or to whom. Art can show us that there is more than this moment, this now, but that by whatever we deem holy, we need to live in this moment, this now. Art helps us build our own churches, carefully, around the strange shapes of our souls.
And I don't say that because I think that church no longer does those things, or to mock people who believe, who have faith. But I say that because I am a person who sometimes has to read poetry, in order to pray.