In March 2011, a devastating tsunami struck Japan, taking nearly 16,000 lives as it obliterated towns and villages along the coast. Writer and poet Gretel Erlich visited Japan to witness and document the destruction. When she felt inadequate to report what she was seeing, she wrote a poem about it. In a PBS NewsHour interview she said, “My old friend William Stafford, a poet now gone, said, ‘A poem is an emergency of the spirit.’”

We find poetry used throughout the Bible to express deep emotion, ranging from joyful praise to anguished loss. When King Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in battle, David was overwhelmed with grief (2 Sam. 1:1-12). He poured out his soul in a poem he called “the Song of the Bow”: “Saul and Jonathan were beloved and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided. . . . How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle! . . . I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; you have been very pleasant to me” (vv.23-26).

When we face “an emergency of the spirit”—whether glad or sad—our prayers can be a poem to the Lord. While we may stumble to articulate what we feel, our heavenly Father hears our words as a true expression of our hearts.