Sunday, September 16, 2012

On Prophets and Poets

Evangelization is hard work these days.  What most of you don't realize is that I probably write and erase 2 blog posts for every one that I actually publish, and even then, I'm only satisfied with about 30% of those.  Usually because my train of thought leaves me long before I can write it, so I end up repeating myself and punching walls in frustration.  'Tis a lovely time.  And that's just me and my feeble attempt to evangelize via my equally feeble blog.  
This represents me, trying to write one of these things.
Its better than actually doing things I'm obliged to do, but still.   Its hard.
 Our culture makes it incredibly hard for any person trying to make a genuine attempt to spread the message of Jesus Christ.  We express ourselves in 140 characters.  Everything is a Facebook 'like', a retweet, a bumper sticker, a slogan.  Nobody talks anymore, especially not about anything important. We talk about sports, talk about the weather, talk about how the weather is going to affect the sports.  Intoxicate us enough, and we'll crazy talk about how sports affects the weather.  (It has never snowed when the Dolphins play at home.  Coincidence?  I think not.)  Regardless, we've acclimated ourselves to not discuss anything that might genuinely be considered vital or fundamental.  I cannot go up to a man on the street and say "Excuse me sir, I'd like to talk to you about the meaning of life" and expect anything but a raised eyebrow and a shrug as he walks away.  We don't talk about important things, we never discuss anything that can come close to possessing deep, valuable meaning and the depths of the soul.  

Nothing demonstrates this more than the death of the prophets and poets.  These are the truth-tellers, the men who mine for meaning in the depths of humanity, and they are a dying breed.  The prophet stands on the street corners and proclaims the fruits of his search to any who will listen.  In the past, we used to run them out of town or kill them.  Nowadays, we're much more cruel.  We ignore them.  We let them shout at the top of their lungs from their allegorical podiums, their words laced with a vein of truth, their soul poured out into the open sky as they desperately look for someone to listen, and we give them no ear.  We call them crazy, or we explain them away into neat little categories we've built for them, to contain and control them.  Its so much easier to deal with people when we've labeled them.  Democrats, Republicans, hipsters, geeks, drunkards, druggies, whores, jocks, preps...  we've got a laundry list of categories custom made so that we don't have to deal with the real you, so that we don't have to recognize the cold hard truth that you are just as human as I am.  Thus, we kill the prophet, whose voice is too true and too honest for us to listen to.  Yeah, we'll hear them.  Heck, we might even take notes and post quotes on Facebook and Twitter, because who doesn't like to think themselves wise.  But actually listen?  Such a thing is too hard, because listening requires there to be a change in the heart, a surrendering of our control, a relinquishing to the Truth.

"Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things."  T.S. Eliot
Poetry is a dying art, precisely because art is dying.  Our culture, in its hell-bent quest to make an iPhone that actually fulfills the deep hunger in our soul, has decided that art, while nice and all, is not nearly important as math and science.  We don't care about truth anymore, we've made it something personal, relative, opinionated, because God forbid there is actually a standard on which I am to be measured, an unmoving, unsympathetic basis on which I am evaluated.  No, such a thing scares the daylights out of us, so we create our own standards, ones that are sympathetic and personal and ultimately under our control.  Science may give us the facts, but poetry gives us the truth.  Science is the servant of man, with it, man may craft and create what ever he likes.  Poetry, poetry serves no man.  Poetry crafts men, not vice versa.  Poetry is a thing of beauty, and beauty changes people.

And it doesn't have to be religious poetry (or prophecy) either.  One of the greatest shortcomings a Catholic can do for their spiritual life is to deny themselves anything that doesn't have "Catholic" rubber stamped on the side.  Catholicism is the fullest revelation of the Truth on this side of eternity, meaning that whatever truth, goodness, and beauty we can distill from this life is, by its nature, Catholic.  Catholics must not come to mirror their secular counterparts and live their life in slogans and regurgitated quotes.  Catholics must become those annoying types to enjoy writings that surpass 140 characters, those who read and enjoy works long thought to be lost, those who stare at the technologically dominated world and say "No thank you, I'll enjoy my T.S. Eliot if its all the same."  

"The means by which we live has outdistanced
the ends for which we live. Our scientific power
 has outrun our spiritual power.
 We have guided missiles and misguided men."
The scientists might inform us that we're chemical, the mathematician may tell us that we're geometric, but the prophet and the poet remind us that we're human, a truth all too often forgotten.  In a time in which we surrender our identity to our doings, we forget that we are, first and foremost, invariably, human beings.  In a world ever changing, ever growing, ever evolving, we need to remember who we are.  Science and technology are constantly besting themselves, constantly redefining our capacity to discover and create things.  Our technology may revolutionize the way we live, but it will never revolutionize who we are.  We have no shortage of good science, but we are at a great shortage of good men, and men are the deciding factor between nuclear medicine and nuclear bombs.  Humanity needs prophets and poets because they search the human soul for the meaning of fire and rain and solace and pain.  Science can give no values, psychology will never tell you what is or is not good.  This is the domain of the prophet and the poet, the ones who seek truth, who proclaim their thirst from mountaintops and city slums.  In their proclamation and in their storytelling, they shed rays of deep truth, glimpses of not what the universe is, not how the universe is, but why the universe is, why we are, why love is.

We're at an embarrassing loss in the modern days.  In all our hustle and bustle, we seem to have forgotten how to be human, how to look at the world without and within and find truth and meaning to it all.  We are material, yes, made of the same chemicals as the soil and the stars, but we are not just  material, for rocks do not ponder truth and stars do not suffer.  Humanity has been graced with the prophet and the poet since the beginning of mankind, and this is for a reason:  we've been busy searching for meaning the entire time.  The poet and the prophet are by no means infallible, nor are they always graceful or gentle.  They're human after all.  But they are asking the right questions, and such a thing is more than most can attest to.  If you want to discover your humanity, read some poetry, find some prophet and see what they might have to say, search and sift for Truth, not as something relative and subjective, but as something grander than the universe itself.  The prophet and the poet, though they may be wrong, are searching for God rather than the rest of the hoi polloi (fancy words!) who see fit to make themselves into their own, weak, puny gods (also knows as bloggers).  So go out, read some poetry, or better yet, write some.  We need more.  We need people with the audacity to look for meaning in the madness and the chaos, and out of that search, reveal beauty.  We need the poet and the prophet.

Now for your listening pleasure:

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