Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Although Stafford joined the Brethren Church as a young man and later attended the Presbyterian Church, he avoided dogmatic overtures and wrote little about traditional biblical topics. Instead, his poetry makes use of an interfaith approach in keeping with the goals of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an organization committed to fostering equality, compassion, and nonviolence. A lifelong member of this group, Stafford took care to write poetry that would not alienate readers of different spiritual traditions. Although in “A Glimpse, Age Five” a mother (ostensibly Stafford’s own) warns her family that bad children burn in hell, “In The [sic] Book” describes only a hand that is writing on a wall and a voice that says that “you” have failed. Later in the poem, the hand, the voice, and even the book disappear, leaving only an ongoing, compassionate spirit. In “Being Saved,” Stafford asserts that nature provides for us, explaining that segments of the sky and stretches of a river may fulfill our needs. He suggests further that a kind of pardon exists in whatever is at hand, perhaps something as humble as a ticket or a compass.

Stafford’s sense that justice resides in the earth is especially clear in his Methow River poems. In “You Can’t See It, But,” Stafford uses the metaphor of a life-filled river that flows underground while we humans live in a stony garden above. Our wisdom is limited to what we can know by reading earth messages ascertained through the study of roots and rocks. Other knowledge resides beyond our understanding, and we can only sense that heaven exists in realms beyond our comprehension. “Silver Star” characterizes a mountain as sturdy and patient, asserting that individuals who simulate such forbearance will be rewarded when God acknowledges their steadfast conduct.

Throughout his life, Stafford refused to write in complex poetic forms or to deplete his creative energy by focusing on revising and editing. Although he was criticized for his plain and supposedly simple style, Stafford believed that it was up to editors and readers to winnow the messages that he received as a result of his faith and perseverance as a writer. The poems in Even in Quiet Places often employ scriptural terminology and urge readers to engage in reverential activities, a satisfying conclusion to Stafford’s lifelong efforts to live as a peacemaker and poet.