Poetry, Psychology, and Spirituality

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The concept of God is difficult for some people to comprehend, however, there is clear evidence of an intelligent designer through the complexities of the human mind and its interpretation of literature. The benefits of contemplative practice, the inherent understanding of ‘good’ poetry against ‘vague’ poetry, and human’s unique capability to feel complex emotions from writing shows the complexity of our universe and proves the need for an intelligent designer.


The way that the mind interprets poetry, based on structure, word choice, and other literary devices is miraculous to say the least. Stimulating different lobes of the brain to set off electrical signals, creating emotions in the body, based on words and structure alone, leading to the conclusion for the necessity of a creative designer. The intricate chain reaction is so unique to mankind, and not manifested in any other creature that it must reflect a design, engineered by a creator, not evolved through time. However, there are many skeptics who question this thesis, as several argue for the lack of a God in our world, and if there is no God, there can be no creative design without a creative designer. Others say that poetry is too relative to have any profound effect on the human mind that isn’t constructed by culture, or acted out for selfish desires. Then, of course, there are those who believe that we evolved through time to hold information in this ‘miraculous’ way. Therefore, the information and data must be presented in a way which contrasts both points of view in a sophisticated and adept manner, so that it will lead to the understanding that there is a God.

Psychological Effects of Literature and Deep Thought

A well-established belief in the minds of many, is that someone who reads all day, or practices deep thought has a higher intelligence than someone who does not. This encourages the claim that A. B. Newberg has in his book, How God Changes Your Brain(2010), that contemplative thought has a profound effect on your brain, which can lead to a more complex thought process, and a more adept understanding of the world around you. Not only that, but as reading and writing has become less common, we are encouraged by Paul in the book of Romans, chapter 12 verse 12 that we should “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” so instead of following along with the crowd and not reading, or challenging our mental capacity, we should continue learning and pushing the limits of our mind.

These difficult equations and hard questions that intelligent people can solve can lead to higher anxiety levels and stress for those who don’t practice contemplative thought as often, but Newberg (2010) explains how after “remaining in a contemplative state for 20 minutes to an hour…. Anti stress hormones and neurochemicals are released during deep contemplation” which explains why many of our schema of wise people, are calm, old men who seem to have no cares in the world.“Contemplative practices” such as prayer, meditation, and reading difficult pieces of literature, “strengthen a neurological circuit that generates peacefulness, social awareness, and compassion for others.” In fact, it has been proven that going to church has an increased effect on lifespan and mental capacity. Reinforcing what Paul continues to say in Romans 12:12, that when our mind is renewed, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” There is a significant difference between the lifespans of those who do and do not attend church, because those who do attend church are actively involving themselves in social interactions and intimacy which is “correlated with greater personal health”(Newberg A. B. & Waldman M. R., 2010).

This concept of going to church and focusing on prayer and God plays very well into Paul Vitz’s ‘Catholic Christian Meta-Model’ of a person. In a time of prayer or meditation, we are asked to focus on God, but many times, it ends up that we also focus on ourselves, and begin on a small journey of self-realization (CSLewisFoundation, 2017). We think about our purpose in God’s plan and what his desire is for us, what he has been calling us towards. Vitz explains that this journey of self-realization is a form of spiritual salvation. This practice of self-realization is being used by many psychologists today, and in turn actually using the Catholic Christian Meta-Model (CSLewisFoundation, 2017).

The Catholic Christian Meta-Model

The Catholic Christian Meta-Model is a 3 level, 11 premise concept of a person in all of their complexities. Paul Vitz follows the advice of King Soloman in Proverbs 23:3-4 in his lecture, presented by the CSLewisFoundation(2017) “By wisdom a house is built and through understanding it is established; through knowledge, its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.” According to the conclusions of A. B. Newberg and King Solomon, it seems like Paul Vitz will be living for a long time in a beautiful house if he keeps up his current habits.

The first three premises of this model, fall under the first level of theology. These first three premises answer the questions of human origin, human purpose, and life after death. First, Vitz establishes that a man is made by God in the image of God, so therefore, a person is born inherently good in his lecture with the CSLewisFoundation(2017). However, there is evil in the world, so there must have been a point in which mankind had a fall, which is the second premise. Now, if we were created in God’s image, but we fell from His grace, there must be a reason why we are still alive and continuing to grow has humans. This is the third premise, that God sent a redeemer in the form of His son who came to save us. All three of these points must be established in order for there to be an accurate model of a human in the eyes of the Christian faith (CSLewisFoundation, 2017).

While some may believe that these points only apply to the Christian faith, it is actually a premise found in psychology. In psychology, it is assumed that people are born good, but society is fallen, therefore, people’s own self-actualization is their redemption. However, this cannot be a completely true statement as if all people are born good, there is no way that society could have learned to be bad. This is the reason why we must have a fall of man, such as the temptation in the Garden of Eden (CSLewisFoundation, 2017).

The following two premises are connected to the level of internal and external calls. First, it is established that people have a vocation or calling and it is necessary for their life and happiness. Many Christians believe that this vocation is a calling from God directly connected to Christianity like nuns or priests. However, this calling can come from your relationships(or lack thereof for men and women of chastity), work, occupation, or volunteer work that you do, and especially through a personal internal calling. This call is what we strive to do and look forward to accomplishing, and how we do it comes from premise five. We are called to work out our state through virtues (CSLewisFoundation, 2017). In psychology, therapists like Dan McAdams actually use these premises in their practice by separating patients’ stories into two categories, contamination and redemptive.

When stories shift their focus to redemptive arcs, it has been proven that people become more productive and happier (Smith, E. E., 2019). This has also been affecting secular psychologists who are beginning to shift their focus from the present to the future as they introduce vocations into their practice, having seen the positive effects it has on their patients. Paul Vitz states that “Narrative approaches to solving a person’s problems are extremely common,” which is where we begin to see the start of a connection between psychology and literature as even Sigmund Freud was awarded the Goethe Prize for German Literature, because “his theories were a mixture of abstract science and literature,” (CSLewisFoundation, 2017).

The final six premises are related to the level of psychology and are the moral structure of a person. These premises are that the person is a unity of body and soul, desires an interpersonal relationship, is reasonable and intelligent, has sensory and imaginative characteristics, has emotion and feeling, and finally, has free will (CSLewisFoundation, 2017). These six points touch on why a person follows a moral law even though they have free will. This moral law is a result of the person’s desire for interpersonal connections and have reasoned how they should act so they may gain these relationships because Newberg(2010) has told us that “intimacy fosters acceptance, and greater degrees of intimacy are correlated with greater personal health”. All of these characteristics also highlight poetry and other forms of literature. As people desire relations and expand upon their inherent capability for emotion and creative thought, many will express that through the art of writing, which will introduce a narrative into their life, and will create a better personal health as well as a more productive society (CSLewisFoundation, 2017).

Many may still argue that there is still so many Christian-based theologies that atheists won’t accept and refuse to incorporate in their own practice. However, as Paul Vitz ended his seminar with the CSLewisFoundation(2017), he concluded with an excellent response. “This model is only a challenge in some of the respects that I have mentioned. They accept reason, we accept reason. The accept emotions, we accept emotions. . . we are within the same basic framework,”(CSLewisFoundation, 2017).

The Power of Poetry

“Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood,” says T.S. Eliot, a famous American poet, and truly his quote is as important to psychology as it is to English literature (Awel et al., 2016). It is crucial that we recognize poetry and all forms of literature as God given gifts or else we will have failed to recognize the warning that Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” So, in order to fully appreciate literature and how it affects our brain, we must fill our house with knowledge as King Solomon instructed us to in Psalms. While this may seem contrasting, to have poetry act as a more factual source of information, it is important to note that, before scientists were common, poets and philosophers were the ones who had asked and answered difficult questions. They were the scientists of their era before scientists were common (Staff, n.d.). This explains why several scientists, like Freud, may have received awards that related to literature.

Poetry has a common relationship to music, like rap or even saying that music without instruments is just poetry. However, the human mind creates an inherent difference between music and poetry, as poetry tends to have a much deeper connection in the mind, stimulating almost the entire brain. Wassiliwizky, Koelsch, Wagner, Jacobsen, & Menninghaus(2017) explains that poetry tends to stimulate lobes for higher mental capacity(interpreting and understanding poetry), motor functions(goosebumps), and a mixture of auditory(hearing poetry) and visual(imagery) stimuli. While many may argue that this is very similar for music, poetry tends to stimulate the brain in much stronger ways, creating more energy in the brain than music tends to(Wassiliwizky et al., 2017)

Since poetry is a God given gift, which has a stronger connection to the human mind than music, it is no wonder that P. J. Kiger(2018), concluded that poetry seems to be built in to the brain. “Poetry appears to be ‘built in’” says Guillaume Thierry, “it’s like a profound intuition, every human being is an unconscious poet.” The scientists had conducted an experiment in which subjects were shown a poem. This poem consisted of two completely opposing styles. The first being a Welsh style known as Cynghanedd, and the other consisting of violations to the same style. The subjects, naive to this style, were clearly able to distinguish between the sentences that followed the rules of Cynghanedd and those that did not. This was not learned through a series of tests, but rather relied on a consistent comparison, which gave evidence to the knowledge of sophisticated creativity in nature, not nurture.

Kiger(2018) emphasizes the fact that these results came from nature and not nurture is critical to understanding the importance of this finding. We understand that learning things by nurture means that we are only repeating what society and past experiences have taught us, but when we say that it is learned by nature, it means that we were born with that ability (Myers, D. G., & DeWall, C. N., 2018). This isn’t the only experiment that shows how humans are hardwired to understand poetry, as in another study done by Wassiliwizky, E., Koelsch, S., Wagner, V., Jacobsen, T., & Menninghaus, W. (2017) shows that, when presented with a poem that is unfamiliar to the reader, there is a consistent cluster of goosebumps at the end of stanzas, and while nearing the end of the poem.

Goosebumps are a completely involuntary response, like your heartbeat, meaning that you do not control it, but it is an unconscious behavior (Myers, D. G., & DeWall, C. N., 2018). So, when these goosebumps occur, it isn’t because the subject has learned to have goosebumps at the ends of stanzas and poems, but rather, it is because their unconscious mind can understand poetry and triggers goosebumps all on its own. Wassiliwizky (2017) and other scientists performed two auditory based experiments, with one having a focus on the external reaction of chills, and the second focusing on the brain’s reaction to the auditory stimuli. The scientists concluded that there was a direct, positive correlation between the ending of sentences, stanzas, and the poem itself and the occurrence of goosebumps as well as stimulation of the occipital and frontal lobes. This proves that poetry is something ingrained into the mind for all humans to understand, not just hipsters and old guys (Wassiliwizky, E., Koelsch, S., Wagner, V., Jacobsen, T., & Menninghaus, W., 2017).

Paul had warned us that if we do not use the gifts of spoken word for the glory of God and to love others, that we will be no better than loud and obnoxious creatures. We must use these gifts that God has given us to share His truth and love.


Mankind has worked for millions of years to preserve history and foster relationships with other humans and God, and it seems as though that the best way to accomplish that goal, is through the beautiful art of poetry. Poetry was used by common folk and rabbis to remember scripture, teachings, and stories. If it was a story from the Ancient Greeks or the Jews, it was probably first heard using poetic rhyme and meter. Those stories that were passed down orally have given us support for what is written in the Gospels, and even God Himself. The emotions that we feel, expressed through poetry and prose are so unique to man, no matter how fluffy the critter, or how cute the elephant is, those emotions understood and interpreted by man are unique to man alone.


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Cite this paper

Poetry, Psychology, and Spirituality. (2021, Jul 26). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/poetry-psychology-and-spirituality/

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