|A Brief Review of
Haiku–The Sacred Art:
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
Haiku has long been one of my favorite forms of poetry: short and simple enough to be written in one sitting, and yet spare; its brevity offering gentle discipline when I often am tempted to wax verbose. So, I was delighted to find out about Margaret McGee’s recent book Haiku, the Sacred Art: A Spiritual Practice in Three Lines, a superb exploration of this poetic form for both beginners and experts alike. In the book’s introduction, McGee notes that haiku is intended to depict a single image, “a picture in the mind’s eye.” She describes “the haiku moment” as “a moment when the mind stops and the heart moves.” Thus, the practice of writing haiku is necessarily a practice of slowing down and of attentiveness, of focusing on a single object and the feelings that it stirs up inside of us. McGee also emphasizes that haiku is more about the experience than about the final written product. Drawing on these themes throughout, McGee explores how haiku can become a spiritual, contemplative practice. Specifically, she focuses on how the experience of haiku captures “the heart of a moment,” how haiku can be a form of prayer, and the ways in which writing and sharing haiku with others can be a rich community-building experience. The most engaging chapter in the book, however, was McGee’s reflection on combining the practices of haiku and Lectio Divina (a meditative way of reading and reflecting upon scripture; for those unfamiliar, I would highly recommend Tony Jones’s book, Divine Intervention) Lectio Divina combined with haiku can help us to internalize passages of scripture that we might take them out into the world with us. “When you carry the words of sacred texts out into the world with you,” she says, “and look with attention, you may see the words reflected back to you in the common events and objects of daily life” (92). Practices of internalizing scripture have been well-known among monastics (and other faithful ones) for centuries – and especially in the era before the printing press made texts widely available – but McGee’s thought to combine haiku with reflection upon scripture is one that will undoubtedly be kicking around my head for a long while. One of the book’s final chapters reflects the “presentation” aspect of how haiku are written, specifically how they can be incorporated with pictures or prose.
Haiku, the Sacred Art: A Spiritual Practice in Three Lines is a rich little book, calling us into practices of attention and reflection that are lost arts in most corners of mainstream American culture. I have no doubt that, if we would attend seriously to the ideas set forth here, we would be better prepared to hear that “still small voice” that seeks to transform us (and all creation) from the inside out.