Minipoems plant little seeds

A quick look at a day’s headlines reminds us how fragile life is – and how fragile the earth! As Christian poets and writers, many of us can’t help but think about our loved ones who don’t know the Lord or who have fallen away. Unfortunately, it’s easy to come on so strong that our words have the opposite effect.

One way to overcome this tendency yet say what needs to be said is to find an appropriate metaphor or symbol, then pour our words into a small container such as a minipoem or aahcoo. Maybe a loved one won’t even see our poems, but someone else’s loved ones might.

To recap an earlier conversation: an aahcoo focuses on God or a spiritual matter in a maximum of 3 to 7 syllables written on 3 to 7 lines.

This example uses the traditional haiku form of 5/7/5 syllables to understate a colossal concern. Lord willing, the poem might cause readers to consider their own spiritual condition:

Angels on the pond
their tiny searchlights blinking –
I wonder who’s lost?

by Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2016




Poetic Power of Dyslexia

Most poets and writers draw on experience, personality, or the power of observation to find something fresh to say in their fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. If you do that in your writing too, great! Keep up the good work. However, the traits you think of as a disadvantage or even a handicap might be the ones that help you to develop your own voice or distinctive style. Take, for instance, dyslexia.

Like many poets and career freelance writers, I began writing as a young child but, in my case, backwards. One way or the other did not matter to me, but this stressed out my teacher so much, she made me stay after class on my very first day of school. For years I thought Mrs. Smith called Mother to come in, too, to see how sloppily I wrote as my left hand smudged the soft pencil across the lined paper in my notebook, but no. I had perfectly copied everything the teacher wrote on the blackboard (which actually was black then), and I had formed each letter of the alphabet correctly. I had just written everything on the blackboard backwards.

For fun, I still like to spell ippississiM in my head, and I must warn you not to even try to beat me at word games like Boggle or Wheel Of Fortune unless, of course, you’re also a bit dyslexic. Most of the time, though, inverting letters and scrambling words or thoughts has gotten me into trouble, especially when I’m tired. If someone happens to spew double-negatives then, I can almost guarantee my brain will not follow.

In writing poetry and poetic manuscripts, however, dyslexia can come in handy. Word scrambles often lead to word play, and scrambled thinking can connect this to that in a previously untried but true way. Such “mistakes” might add a note of humor to fiction or nonfiction too and, in some cases, bring about a fresh idea, insight, or observation.

For example, as a Christian writer I often write nonfiction articles and devotionals. In one short article I wrote for other Christian poets and writers, I talked about the importance of double-checking facts and speaking with a loving voice whenever we write in the name of Jesus. Since Christians pray in Jesus’ name, my point was to encourage that thought also as we write. However, instead of typing “in the name of Jesus,” I wrote, “in the amen of Jesus.” Same letters, you notice, just scrambled. When I finally noticed this myself, I thought, wow! That better said what I wanted to say anyway. i.e., Anything we write (or pray) in Jesus’ name needs Jesus’ amen or affirmation.

I certainly do not pray for my dyslexia to increase or for you to catch it! But I do pray that you use your talents and “flaws” well. I pray you begin to see your “mistakes” or “handicaps” or “shortcomings” or “disadvantages” as a means of making your writing distinctive, inimitable, and one of a kind. Do I hear an name?

©2010, ©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved. If you need a fresh perspective on your poems, children’s picture books, or book proposals and one-on-one feedback for a minimal fee, visit the Contact & Critique page of Mary’s website.

Writing to heal the Body of Christ

Are you concerned about the decline in church attendance in almost every denomination? Are you as distressed as I am about the divisions among Christians? Do you wish you could do something. As communicators for Christ, we can! For example:

We can write honest, accurate, uplifting poems, devotionals, books, and stories to strengthen the faith of our readers.

We can visit the websites of each denomination and study their statements of beliefs then write to overcome assumptions, errors, or misunderstanding.

We can write about what we love in the Christian community and encourage forgiveness, acceptance, and respect for one another.

We can research what the Bible says about fellowship in Christ and write about what draws us together and makes us One.

We can investigate areas of dissension and pray to provide a voice of reason, balance, and healing.

If we write fiction, we can do so with a healing theme and purpose. For example, we might set a novel in another era where people dealt with similar concerns or write a Romeo and Juliette story between two lovers from opposing backgrounds, say, during the Reformation.

Most importantly, we can pray for discernment, expecting God to answer, and we can examine our minds and motives as we ask ourselves:

• Does my writing stir up debates or stir and quicken readers to consider differences from a spiritual perspective?

• Will my words help readers from diverse cultures to accept the forgiveness, redemption, and salvation of Jesus Christ, perhaps by showing that love and those blessings through story people, personal experiences, biblical truths, and practical suggestions?

• Does my writing speak ill of others or speak peace? In what ways can my poems, stories, devotionals, articles, and books bring reconciliation and healing to denominational or other church factions?

• The Bible gives us the wonderful analogy of One Body with many parts. Where do we see ourselves in the Body of Christ? Are any parts missing?

• Obviously, an elbow is not a toe, nor an ear a shinbone! But each part is vital to the whole. Can our writings show this? Can you think of another analogy that might speak to people today to show the need Christ has for each one of us to be One in Him?

©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved. If you would like Mary’s feedback on your book proposal, children’s picture book, poems, or devotionals for a minimal fee, visit Critique & Contact for information and pricing. For general help with your writing, revising, and more, order the Christian Writers’ Guide e-book.

Literary Forms in the Bible

When we think of the Bible as the written word inspired by God, the laws (teachings) and history will most likely come to mind. However, poetry covers about one-third of the Bible, which also contains almost all of the other literary forms. Hopefully, this will interest Christian readers in general, but as poets and writers, we do well to study these forms and their usages to expand our literary options in what we write.

We can do this by ourselves, of course, but if you’ve ever read one of the many books by writer, editor, and university professor Leland Ryken, you’ll want to see what he has to say on this subject. I certainly did! So I warmly welcomed the review copy I received of A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible, recently published by Crossway.

In the Introduction, Dr. Ryken defines literary forms as “anything pertaining to how a passage expresses its content.” So the focus is not on the content or the what of the text but on these categories as listed by the author with my notes added in parentheses:

1. Literary terms (discussed in this alphabetized handbook)
2. Genres (fiction, nonfiction, poetry)
3. Literary techniques (for example, theme and variation)
4. Motifs (pattern or theme)
5. Archetypes and type scenes (recurrent patterns or symbols)
6. Figures of speech (metaphor, simile, hyperbole, paradox)
7. Rhetorical devices (for example, an envelope structure or inclusio, which “consists of bracketing a passage with the same statement”)
8. Stylistic traits (features of style from high to conversational)
9. Formulas (such as a number formula “for three transgressions and for four” or a “woe formula)

You might feel like saying “Woe is me!” if those terms are new for you, but take heart! The A to Z (make that “W”) format of the book enables you to look up the entry you want on your own need-to-know terms.

Since I wanted to give the book a thorough reading, though, I began with “Abundance, Story of” and kept going, soon coming to the conclusion that, when I catch up on my stack of review copies, I’d like to read this again and give myself a writing exercise for each entry to which I’m drawn.

For instance, I’ve enjoyed writing acrostics, which, in Bible literature, means, “An Old Testament poem in which the successive units begin with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in consecutive order.” Mine were written using the English alphabet, but the Hebrew Bible includes acrostics in several Psalms where “The most elaborate acrostic poem in the Bible is Psalm 119. The poem is comprised of twenty-two eight-verse units. The units unfold according to the Hebrew alphabet, but in addition, all eight verses within each unit begin with the letter that the unit as a cluster highlights.” To make Psalm 119 even more difficult to write, the poet consistently included words referring to the “law of the LORD” such as “precepts, “statutes,” “commandments,” thereby adding to the impression that the Bible consists primarily of rules.

Dr. Ryken, however, reminds us of so much more in the “Adventure Story,” “Allegory, “Apocalyptic Writing,” “Beatitude,” “Benediction,” “Christ Hymn,” and even the “Comedy,” which he describes as “A kind of plot structure, with accompanying traits, that forms a U-shaped story in which events first descend into potential tragedy and then rise to a happy ending.”

Who would expect that, from a literary perspective, “comedy rather than tragedy is the dominant narrative form of the Bible and the Christian gospel.” For example, the Bible “story begins with the creation of a perfect world. It descends into the tragedy of fallen human history. It ends with a new world of total happiness and victory over evil” – which is surely more than enough to make us smile!

Other examples of the literary form include the stories of Joseph, Ruth, Esther, and Job – none of whom endured the laughing matters we expect to see in a TV sit-com or humor story. Nevertheless, each lived through a U-shaped story where events went from bad to good, shaping their faith and also the lives of readers who welcome the relief of a happy ending based on biblical truths.

Continuing through the alphabetized entries, we find “Drama” and “Dramatic Irony,” such as “Pharaoh’s daughter unknowingly paying the mother of Moses to take care of her own son.” And, in “Epic,” we see that “The biblical story that most obviously fits the description of an epic is the story of the exodus.”

When I came to the entry for “Epistle,” I thought of the form many Christian writers use in their blogs! As a fixed form in the New Testament, the epistle has five main parts, which, according to Dr. Ryken, consist of the following (parentheses his, this time):

• opening or salutation (sender, address, greeting)
• thanksgiving (including such features as prayer for spiritual welfare, remembrance of the recipients, and eschatological climax)
• body of the letter (beginning with introductory formulas and concluding with eschatological and travel material)
• paraenesis (moral exhortations)
• closing (final greetings and benediction)

Instead of focusing on parables, paradox, penitential Psalms, and other forms you’re most likely familiar with, I’ll turn to the entry for “Paraenesis,” which frankly I’d never heard of before, perhaps because, as Dr. Ryken notes, “No English word has gained currency as a designation for this fixed ingredient in the Epistles.” As he explains, however, paraenesis is “A section in the New Testament Epistles that lists moral virtues and vices, or a collection of commands to practice specific virtues and avoid specific vices.”

Hmm. Interesting. Even without know what paraenesis means, I’ve been seeing a lot of it in blogs by Christian writers when I’d much prefer to see the use of literary forms such as the “Penitential Psalm,” “Praise Psalm,” “Quest Story/Motif,” “Witness Story,” or “Worship Psalm,” each of which has specific characteristics and/or patterns (forms!) you might want to study, practice, and enjoy in your Christian writing life.

©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is the poet-author of 27 traditionally published books in all genres, many of which can be found on her Amazon Author Page.

Literary Forms in the Bible, paperback


Witnessing Jesus’ Signature

In the Christian community, important words or phrases get tossed around one denomination or another – spiritually healing words, spiritually vital words such as “Savior,” “resurrection,” “redemption,” but sometimes the significance passes over us without registering the full impact such words can have.

Take “witness,” for example. Does the thought of a witness testifying in court come to mind? When we need to make a case for Christ, that’s exactly the kind of witness we most likely need to be.

A witness testifies or gives a testimony that’s often based on a personal experience other people can relate to – or not! In other words, a witness gives evidence that might not be evident to everyone until we explain.

For the growth of the church and the encouragement of other Christians, we need to be witnesses, who spread the Good News by word-of-mouth. If we also happen to be Christian poets or writers, we have the opportunity and unique privilege of putting our witness into writing and signing our names.

But what about the Name of Jesus? We pray in His Name, but how does He sign His name?

In sign after sign, the Bible records Jesus’ miracles, teachings, parables, prayers, love, healing, and sacrifice.

Jesus is Himself the sign of God’s forgiveness and redemption.
Jesus is the sign of God’s mercy and love.
Jesus is God’s signature in the world and in our lives.

As we speak to others about Christ or give our testimonies or write in any genre, may we remain alert and eager to let our witness become a witness to Jesus’ signature.

© 2014 Mary Harwell Sayler – poet-author of Living in the Nature Poem and the Bible-based poetry book, Outside Eden.

Seeing ourselves as part of The Storytelling God

A year or two ago, I began translating the parables of Jesus into poems and prose poetry, so when I heard about The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables, written by Jared C. Wilson, I requested a review copy, which Crossway kindly sent.

In the Introduction, the pastor-author immediately gave a fresh perspective by saying, “The word parable from the Greek means ‘to cast alongside,’ and like the seeds cast in one of the few parables for which Jesus offered an interpretation, the parables may land on rocky soil.”

Wow! Had you ever thought of Jesus’ stories in that way? I hadn’t. i.e., The Parable of the Sower is a parable on parables, illustrating how words work in our lives and in the lives of other people.

Inspired thoughts, spiritual insights, Biblical truths are cast (broadcast?) like seeds to land where they may among listeners and readers and, hopefully, to flourish and grow.

As Pastor Wilson explained, “The parables, then, serve this end: they proclaim, in their unique way, the gospel of the kingdom of God and Jesus as king of that kingdom.” Furthermore, “God is the greatest storyteller ever,” and “All good stories are but pale reflections and imitations of the great story of God’s glory brought to bear in the world…. The poetry, the history, the laws, the lists, the genealogies, the proverbs, and the prophecies together make up the mosaic of God’s vision for the universe with himself at its center.”

In our lives as Christian poets and writers, we are a circle, rotating around the world with our words in all genres, evolving into artistry and revolving around our One True Center: God. We are one with Christ and one with one another since the beginning of petroglyphs or stone tablets as we write from the same rock, the same central core.

“The rock to build on, then, is not the doing of Jesus’s words but the work of Jesus already done, namely his sacrificial death and glorious resurrection. The rock to build on is Jesus himself. When we really hear and do, we are showing that he is our foundation.”

We who have ears, let us hear what our storytelling God has to say to and through us in Jesus’ Name.

© 2014 Mary Harwell Sayler – poet-author of Living in the Nature Poem and the Bible-based poetry book, Outside Eden –

The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables, paperback


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