As Much Light as It Will Take: On Poetic Language and Revelation

Neal McGowan

This essay argues that poetic language provides a means of understanding the nature of divine revelation by showing how poetry overcomes problems of human communication through metaphor and excessive language. Through a discussion on metaphor and a brief look at A. R. Ammons’s poem “The City Limits,” the author demonstrates the ways poetry pushes language to its breaking point using excessive speech to forward communication. The author then argues, using the language of call and response developed by Jean-Louis Chrétien, that revelation functions in an analogous manner—as an excess that emerges when a human response strains but ultimately fails to equal the call of God. Finally, the author connects this definition of revelation as excessive response to God’s unending call with the task of the church in allowing a diversity of voices in theological expression and in creating imaginative theological projects.