Walt Whitman, Patron Saint

If you are like me you struggle with cynicism and misanthropy from time to time. People, man, are just the worst.

When I get in funks like this I turn to two places: Jesus and Walt Whitman.

As I've written about before, Jesus' ministry of table fellowship, of eating with "tax collectors and sinners," always lifts my spirits. I love how Jesus offends religious people by always hanging out with the wrong people. If you went looking for Jesus today and had two places to look, a bar or church on Sunday morning, where would you check first? I know my answer.

Whitman, for similar reasons, does the same thing for me. I love how Whitman absorbs and identifies with all of humanity. Male and female, slave and free, saint and sinner, rich and poor. Whitman, to use his words, embraces multitudes. And I want to embrace multitudes. Whitman embodies what the theologian Miroslav Volf calls a "catholic personality," making space within the self to accommodate others. And I think that is often missing in religious people. We fail to make space in our hearts and minds for other people.

Last night our church small group gathered as we do every Sunday evening. We are a mixed lot. We have homemakers, writers, social workers, computer scientists, musicians and, yours truly, a psychologist. Our task for the night was to bring a text outside of the bible that speaks to us. We read Bob Dylan lyrics, a bit from The Chronicles of Narnia, a passage from Uncle Tom's Cabin, and selections from G.K. Chesterton and Thomas Merton. My selection was from Whitman, these lines from the poem I Celebrate Myself:

This is the meal pleasantly set….this is the meal and drink for natural hunger,
It is for the wicked just the same as for the righteous….I make appointments with all,
I will not have a single person slighted or left away,
The keptwoman and sponger and thief are hereby invited…the heavy-lipped slave is invited….the venerealee is invited,
There shall be no difference between them and the rest.

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5 thoughts on “Walt Whitman, Patron Saint”

  1. I love the word "invited"...and the idea of hospitality as an antidote to cynicism. Great poetry, and great theology.

  2. Simply gorgeous. I shared this with a friend who has a blog about food and identity who is a Christian - it is amazing how comforted/recognized one feels when one reads or hears or sees the expression of something one feels but has not articulated.

  3. Sounds similar to the early Christian text Thunder, Perfect Mind:

    And do not look upon me when I am cast out among those who
    are disgraced and in the least places,
    nor laugh at me.
    And do not cast me out among those who are slain in violence.
    But I, I am compassionate and I am cruel.


    Why do you curse me and honor me?
    You have wounded and you have had mercy.
    Do not separate me from the first ones whom you have known.
    And do not cast anyone out nor turn anyone away

  4. I love this. It stands in stark contrast to the mentality that only quantifies the degree to which one agrees (theologically, politically, socially), and measures another's value thereby.

  5. Bravo.  Nice. So glad I found you.  Just received Walt Whitman (1819–1892).  Leaves of Grass. 1900  O Me! O Life! from a friend and that prompted me to look up Whitman's theology.  and I found your work.  

    Tom Relth native Californian
    4th year teaching HS art in Casablanca Morocco 

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