Michael Metzger

Why is festooning one of the fruits of spiritual formation?

A while back, a friend whom I admire reminded me that we shouldn’t talk about transformation until we’re clear on formation. He felt most of us are unclear. I tend to agree, noting how few Christians evidence one of the fruits of formation: festooning.

Festooning means “adorning.” Dante festooned the Lord’s Prayer, adorning the Latin version (it has forty-nine words) by turning it into an Italian prayer of more than 160 words.[1] He did this to depict God’s Bride being adorned with beauty.

We are God’s bride, his handiwork. The Greek word for handiwork is poeima, our word poem. We’re God’s poetry. As we mature, we festoon our lives with beauty so that we are prepared to be presented as a pure virgin to our husband, Jesus (II Cor.11:2; Eph.5:32). In older times, this included festooning scripture, adorning it with genuine poetry.

And therein lies the rub. There are three stages to becoming a genuine poet: parrot, pert, poet.[2] Parroting is rote learning, which often rubs American Christians the wrong way. They conflate rote with meaningless repetition. Jesus wasn’t against repetition per se. The Lord was against meaningless repetition. Big difference between the two, evident in Jesus telling disciples to pray this way: “Our Father, who art in heaven…” Sounds pretty rote to me.

I began reciting the Lord’s Prayer about 25 years ago after reading Dallas Willard’s festooning of the prayer in The Divine Conspiracy. For at least three years, all I did was recite it throughout the day. Back then, I didn’t know how, on average, it takes about three years of recitation to carve out new neural pathways, to making something second nature.

After three years, I was prepared to enter the pert stage. Over the next decade, I practiced Lexio Divina, meditating on the Lord’s Prayer, phrase by phrase, and sometimes word for word, lingering over each bit, seeking to “uncover” hidden meanings Paul refers to.

About eight years ago, I felt prepared to enter the poet stage. I began festooning the Lord’s Prayer. You can imagine my delight one morning when the lectionary included a scene from the Exodus where God tells the Israelites: “In the evening twilight you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread.” Uh, flesh isn’t actually bread, is it?

It can be. The children of Israel saw the manna (quail in the flesh), and asked one another, “What is this?” Moses told them: “This is the bread which the Lord God has given you to eat.” Moses prefigures Jesus, who said: “I am the bread of life. Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.”

But there’s more. In the Bible, the number seven denotes completeness. There are seven petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. The first three relate to God and the last three relate to us. The seventh, which is fourth in order—“give us this day our daily bread”—relates to both God and man. “It relates to man because it asks for food to sustaining us physically, and it relates to God because it refers to the Eucharist under the appearance of bread.”[3] In the Eucharist, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. It’s why two-thirds of the worldwide church sees the Eucharist as the source, center, and summit of Christian formation, for Christ is present in the host.

C. S. Lewis festooned the Lord’s Prayer in his Letters to Malcolm. He recited the prayer, later pausing over parts of it, pondering them (pert), and later rephrasing them (poet), laying on the Lord’s Prayer new and fresh thoughts according with ancient traditions.

If festooning interests you, I close with an offer and a recommendation. My offer is my festooning of the Lord’s Prayer. If you care to read it, send me an email at: mmetzger@claphaminstitute.org.

My recommendation is Malcolm Guite’s book, David’s Crown: Sounding the Psalms. Guite is an English poet, Anglican priest, singer-songwriter, and rides a Royal Enfield café racer. Gotta love that. In David’s Crown, he festoons all 150 psalms. My wife Kathy and I have felt it widening how we imagine the psalms. You might too. You might even begin progressing through the three stages toward become a genuine poet. Jesus would love that.


[1] Dante, Puratorio, 11.1-24.

[2] Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Lost Tool of Learning, (GLH Publishing, 2017).

[3] David Clayton, The Way of Beauty: Liturgy, Education, and Inspiration for Family, School, and College, (Angelico Press, 2015), 109-110.


The Morning Mike Check

Don't miss out on the latest podcast episode! Be sure to subscribe in your favorite podcast platform to stay up to date on the latest from Clapham Institute.


  1. I first came across festooning in Letters to Malcolm as part of a C.S. Lewis Institute study, so now I’ll have to go back and look at it again. I also found Tim Keller’s sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer (1995 and 1998) very enlightening, as well as his book on praying through the Psalms (The Songs of Jesus), so I’ll be sure to check out Malcolm Guite’s book (I always admired his beard, didn’t know about the Royal Enfield). Thanks for this!

  2. So cool! So many more people will know of Guite’s book now ❤️. Has been a massive blessing in my life. Glory to God.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *