“Find What’s in the Sky”: The Legacy of Poet Walt McDonald


God loves poetry. We know this because he authored much of it – about a third of the Bible comes to us in poetic form. For 2,000 years, Christian poets have expressed their faith through an astonishing variety of hymns and poems. This great tradition continues with the publication of “The Essential Walt McDonald”.

McDonald – the late Texas Poet Laureate, Air Force pilot, rancher, teacher and follower of Jesus – left us a remarkable body of work: a collection of over 500 poems, lovingly chosen and arranged by the author himself. same.

Walt McDonald. “The Walt McDonald Essentials.” Texas Tech University Press. 2022. 608 pages. $39.95.

In McDonald’s poems, the sacred is rarely named openly, but rest assured, Christ is near. “The foundation of all my work is Christ,” he once said. “Not a poem would have come without this rock.”

McDonald’s mission is similar to that of CS Lewis – to do our best to be mindful, to see what is placed squarely before us, and to discover a world peopled with the presence of God. “Keep your eyes wide open,” he advises in a poem. “Find what’s in the sky.”

Religious verses are known to sometimes become sickening or watery, to take on airs. McDonald walks a more direct path, full of warts and devoid of obscurity and pretension. He is honest about the flawed and fallen state of humanity.

Whether it’s a near-bankrupt farmer begging for rain, a grandfather praying for a dying granddaughter, a cowboy mending fences, a couple enjoying coffee from the morning or of a father waiting for news from the war front where his son is serving – grief, despair, hope and joy are treated with equal candor and compassion.

Even when the answers are unavailable, McDonald reassures that God’s grace is sufficient: “Nights, / you look to me to hold you, faith and hope / and love, if not the answers, enough for us.”

Related: Voice-Only Wednesday: Poetry Slam Edition

McDonald is a poet in love, in love with Word and words, natural beauty and people, his ordinary saints. “Those who overcome the everyday with simple faith are my heroes,” McDonald said. In memorable scenes of graceful realism, ordinary people perform simple acts of kindness – without fanfare or expectation of reward.

He especially loves family and friendships. Scenes of parents and children, aunts and uncles, rural neighbors and war buddies often appear. But it is at its best for celebrating marital love.

Like the lead singer of The Song of Solomon, McDonald soars when he recalls his time with Carol, his beloved wife (honors graduate and graphic designer from Abilene Christian University). “The blaze of lavish hours together…the fast, playful nights like wild hosannas hanging from a string. I love the halo / of your hair, the sheer mystery of your eyes.

The psalmist used ordinary material things – a starry sky, a shady valley, a green pasture, a deer seeking water – to convey spiritual realities. McDonald’s also finds truth, beauty and the sacred in human relationships, nature and the smallest of things.

Few of the Churches of Christ poets have ever achieved national recognition for their literary excellence. Walt McDonald is the exception, author of more than 20 books and 2,000 poems and receiving numerous awards. We owe him and his memory a great debt for leaving us his last and best work – a masterpiece brimming with hope, love, wisdom and a beautiful and honest faith.

DARYL TIPPENS is a retired Distinguished Academic Scholar of Faith, Learning, and Literature at Abilene Christian University and former Director of Studies at Pepperdine University.

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