Aug 02 2008

My Introduction to Sacred Poetry

Published by at 12:55 pm under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Ivan M. Granger

I am often asked how I came to the world of sacred poetry. What set me on this path? Was there a particular poet who opened the doorway or a line that hooked me? What was my inspiration for starting the Poetry Chaikhana?

My father, Steven Granger, is a poet, so I heard poetry from a young age. Like many young people, I wrote a bit of poetry as I grew up, but I didn’t take it too seriously. Most of the poetry I was exposed to was, well, boring to me. I thought of poetry as belonging my father’s world. To me it was mostly an intellectual game of words.

In the year 2000, I moved with my wife Michele to Maui. A friend from the mainland sent me a series of talks by the poet David Whyte on cassette tapes. I went for long drives along Maui’s country roads, through the tall sugar cane fields, among the rows of spiky pineapple plants, listening to David Whyte’s molasses accent, as he told stories and recited poetry by poets I hadn’t heard of before: Antonio Machado, Anna Akhmatova.

Maui’s natural beauty and quiet rhythms of land and sea and sky inspired me to go deeper into my spiritual practices. I was meditating deeply, praying, fasting, going for long walks in the eucalyptus forests that grew along the slopes of Haleakala Volcano. It was idyllic, yet I was going through a personal crisis.

/ Photo by *amelia* /

I had just broken with a spiritual group I had been practicing with for nearly ten years. So, while I was engaged in intensive spiritual practice, it had lost its context. Should I still be following the same form of prayer, the same focus in meditation? I was flailing about.

Christmas came, and the sense of crisis deepened. The holidays just seemed to emphasize my disorientation. I was in my early 30s by that point and had no career to speak of. I was just doing work to get by. I was largely cut off from friends and family, cut off even from the American mainland. My one driving goal was spiritual growth. That was my only identity. And it was in disarray.

I came to a profound personal confrontation. For the first time I really saw myself. And that was a terrifying thing. I dropped all pretense and projection, all the fantasies of who I thought I was or who I might become. I just looked at myself plainly, as I was. What I saw wasn’t terribly impressive. I felt I was a mostly good-hearted person, but largely ineffectual. I had the ironic recognition that I was basically a likable flake. What truly surprised me, though, was the thought that followed, which was that it was okay.

New Years came and went, while I hovered in that limbo state.

The combination began to ferment in my mind – the poetry and the personal crisis.

In early January it all converged and then – POW! – I was catapaulted into an ecstatic stillness. Everything about me and my world came to a complete stop. The person I thought of as “Ivan” seemed to disappear. It was as if some undefined, wide-open awareness was quietly witnessing the world through my eyes. My heart bloomed and was flooded with love. An indescribable joy bubbled up inside me. The entire world was an intangible outline sketched upon a golden-white radiance, and I was a gossamer thin ghost happily disappearing in that light.

I spent days hardly speaking, a crooked grin plastered across my face.

I didn’t want to unsettle my wife, so I made a game of it. I pretended to be “Ivan.” I resumed my work schedule. I walked the dogs. I cleaned the house. But the world still shone.

I started to fill pages in my journal, describing what I was witnessing. How the world was changed, how I was changed. But I found that what really wanted to come out was – poetry!

As I wrote more poetry, I found a certain metaphoric language naturally emerging in what I was writing: water and honey and wine, sleep and death and new life, moon and sun and light…

Jelaluddin Rumi, Jelaluddin Rumi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Jelaluddin Rumi

It was then that I came across books of sacred poetry, by mystics like St. John of the Cross, Rumi, Hafez, Abu-Said Abil-Kheir, and Ramprasad. Their words sent thrills through my body. They whispered to me as intimate companions. And I noticed also that they spoke a similar language of wine and moonlight. They told me how many before me had walked the same path in awe.

John of the Cross, John of the Cross poetry, Christian poetry John of the Cross

I became hungry for more. I started rummaging through used bookstores for more poetry collections. I scanned anthologies for new names and voices. Sufi poets, Hindu poets, Buddhist poets, Christian poets.

I realized there was a rich world heritage of sacred poetry, hundreds of poets, thousands of poets, singing songs of the divine – and I had heard of almost none of them before. Most commentaries accompanying their poetry were dry, academic literary analysis, which has its value, but, in my opinion, lacks deep insight. It was frustrating to find poetry of such profound wisdom and ecstatic joy, and have it thought to be merely beautiful.

I spent about a year building a database that would allow me to gather a wide selection of sacred poetry, organize it, link it together by theme and tradition and century, and be able to generate a website I could maintain by myself in my spare time. In 2004, my wife and I returned to the mainland, moving to Colorado, and soon after I officially launched the Poetry Chaikhana as a place for people to discover new poets, sample different translations, explore the inner meanings of esoteric poetry without a lot of arcane jargon – and, hopefully, come to recognize what mystics the world over affirm, that the heart of religion and spirit is one, regardless of differences in tradition and culture.

So, please, explore the Poetry Chaikhana. Perhaps these sacred poets will whisper in your ear too.

14 responses so far

14 Responses to “My Introduction to Sacred Poetry”

  1. JToméon 02 Aug 2008 at 4:54 pm

    Hi, Ivan.

    Thank you for sharing your story and such a beautiful site.
    I love sacred poetry too.
    I hope, I wish you keep this site growing at least one hundred years more:)

    “For those who love, time is eternity” – Henry van Dyke.

    From Portugal, with my best regards,

  2. Poonam Nileshmaon 04 Aug 2008 at 12:24 pm

    I am so happy that your spiritual path lead you to launch Poetry Chaikhana. It is a wonderful treat to get the poems from you on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I am a poet and I LOVE sacred poetry as well. When I read sacred poetries I say to myself I am not the only one who was searching. I feel at home, filled with peace and love. Thank you for sharing these wonderful treats with us.

  3. xanderon 04 Aug 2008 at 5:00 pm

    this is an amazing story Ivan 🙂 thanks for sharing it 🙂
    poetry chaikhana is a unique source of sacred poetry and i love it 🙂
    thank you

  4. Helen Robertson 04 Aug 2008 at 11:05 pm

    Thank you, Ivan, for your deep sharing with us. I value Poetry Chaikhana very much and often send it on to friends. I could relate very much to your story of spiritual search – especially the line "I felt I was a mostly good-hearted person, but largely ineffectual. I had the ironic recognition that I was basically a likable flake".

    I don't know the word 'flake' (excepts when referring to things like snow, and as the name of a chocolate bar), but I know what you mean, and have had exactly that feeling towards myself. I haven't got to the feeling that it's OK yet, however…..

    All blessings to you, as always, and all your loved ones.


  5. Navdeepon 04 Aug 2008 at 11:11 pm

    Dear Ivan,

    God Bless you for spreading the vibrations.

  6. Jacobon 08 Aug 2008 at 6:41 am

    Hi, Ivan

    Thank you so much for this website. I too am a big fan of sacred poetry. My favorite is saint John of the Cross

  7. Naomion 16 Aug 2008 at 7:31 am

    Ivan, I have the same crooked smile of wonderment plastered across my face. I am slowly and very fast unpacking my feeling and touch functions that i myself had neatly folded and stored in a pantry of numbness. It is wonderous to get permission and courage to stand forward into now, into life. i am grateful

  8. Bob Landon 16 Aug 2008 at 6:12 pm

    Hello Ivan

    I just wanted to say thanks. I have a busy and often troubled life but I get by largely due to my many interests.

    I was always a little curious about poetry, it meant nothing to me but a lot of very bright people were obviously getting something quite significant from it and I hate to miss out.

    I have long suspected, sometimes even sensed a spiritual dimension to life and yearned to explore this. Perhaps you can imagine the pleasure that I felt upon discovering that exploring one aids understanding of the other. Progress is slow but I am getting there.

    Very best wishes


  9. Rose Cookon 19 Aug 2008 at 2:04 am

    dear Ivan, very heartening to read your story. Thank you for offering your chosen poems and insights etc ~ our world needs inspiration and light, love Rose

  10. Robinon 05 Sep 2008 at 3:10 pm

    A big thank you for all the time and effort that you have put in to make a wonderful website.

    I look forward to receiving the poems,some are old friends,others for me are brilliant and new from years past and are an inspiration.

    With warm good wishes for your health and happiness.


  11. Deniseon 12 Sep 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Ivan – a HUGE thank you for sharing your story and for sharing some wonderful poetry and music. Poetry, especially sacred poetry has always been my source of solace, inspiration and hope and through your website you have enabled us all to discover some beautiful gems.
    I wish you well and long may your lovely website continue!

  12. Constanceon 29 Nov 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Exquisite timing.
    I remember being nurtured by this writing some time ago, about your introduction to Sacred Poetry.
    Your words are life enhancing to me
    again, now…I bow in deep gratitude.

  13. chaityon 29 Nov 2010 at 10:39 pm


    The openness of the words and the depth of the heart that calls for the infinite is what i found in your blog. Rooted to traditional Indian ways, somewhere i found my calling when i went to a trip the Badrinath hills. The magnificent Himalayas were the silent spectators of those who walked on in awe and bliss. In my silent walks i have found the call of within, and i truly realize and identify with what you have written.

    Poetry Chaikhana is a treasure house of wealth that speaks for itself…

    In gratitude and love

  14. janet bradleyon 02 Dec 2010 at 4:37 am

    Dear Ivan,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and opening up with such honesty. I love your choices of poetry. Your site is Colorado sunshine delivered to my home! I am from Colorado and have been living in Europe for the last 10 years. London is my home for now and it is cold and gray on the outside but I can carry the warmth of your words, the poets words, and the words of all of those who write to you in my heart knowing that there are so many around who are wrapped in the beauty of belief.

    with love,

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