It's no secret that we in the U.S. are becoming more neurotic, anxious, and depressed. I can't help but think it might have something to do with the healthy habit of "questioning everything" spinning out of control.

Some questions are asked to learn, and others are asked to challenge. Asking a question to challenge without first having asked questions to learn is a national disease right now. It leaves us with blunt instruments for attempting change and stifles creative approaches to solving problems. Without first appreciating structure and understanding what we see, we will tend to use a sledgehammer when what is called for is a scalpel.

There are fields and beaches all over the world that only look like well-preserved fields. They are near rivers, in rolling hills, and in valleys. But if one studies history, those fields transform into an entirely different experience -- Little Bighorn, Gettysburg, Gallipoli, Omaha, Bannockburn. The same is true of manuscripts, Roman or Greek ruins, Native American burial sites, cathedrals, museums. The more one knows and understands the history of a place, how things were done, and why, the deeper the appreciation. It is the equivalent to applying structure to what one is looking at -- a framework.

It is when this happens that the imagination can take over. It is then that creativity begins to blossom. And this is just as true in the realm of ideas and religion as it is looking at historical sites or artifacts. The implication here is that imagination and creativity grow best after discipline. In the realm of craftsmanship, creativity happens when one becomes deeply acquainted with the tools, media, and methods used. In the realm of music, creativity happens when one becomes familiar and practiced with its sounds and structure. Lay this alongside appreciation and understanding of the history of music and beautiful things happen.

Structure and beauty are inextricably linked -- in art, nature, literature, and sports. Knowing the rules and understanding how things fit together allow for that beauty to be appreciated more. I am tempted to say that the more care that is taken with structure the more ignited becomes the imagination when encountering an object, poem, or idea.

I am not a literary expert, but I do read a bit. What I find when reading is that the more structure and intent there is in what I am reading, the more my imagination engages. It is true of poetry and prose, but poetry has, for me, the capacity to launch me into unexpected places.

Poetry was the nearly exclusive way of telling the ancient epics. It was the preferred language of Shakespeare in his plays, and of Dante, and Thomas a' Kempis, and of most of the Old Testament prophets. The list is so long as to become tedious when thinking of great literature that has come to us in the form of poetry. From Job to Mother Goose we pass our stories down in the form of memorable lines of poetry. We use it to teach, understand, and find common ground.

Poetry gives us a structure for understanding history and culture. Good poetry can center us and extend our boundaries at the same time. April is National Poetry Month. Take some time to appreciate the structure of that beautiful form of communication and allow it to ignite the creativity in your mind. Don't just sit with it and contemplate, let it move you to action toward a goal or a good change.

I leave you with this wonderful poem:

O LORD, our Lord,

how majestic is thy name in all the earth!

Thou whose glory above the heavens is chanted

by the mouth of babes and infants,

thou hast founded a bulwark because of thy foes,

to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,

the moon and the stars which thou hast established;

what is man that thou art mindful of him,

and the son of man that thou dost care for him?

Yet thou hast made him little less than God,

and dost crown him with glory and honor.

Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands;

thou hast put all things under his feet,

all sheep and oxen,

and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,

whatever passes along the paths of the sea.

O LORD, our Lord,

how majestic is thy name in all the earth! (Psalm 8, RSV)

Sean Niestrath lives and ministers in Madisonville, Kentucky. You may contact him via email at

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