Lived Poetry Part 2: Looking for a something

In my last post I wrote about how among several of the Evangelicals I know, and the pastor of my parent’s church, there’s been a growing trend to go off on romantic flights of fancy, and mistake that for Christianity. It’s easy enough to criticize those who suggest that William Wallace fighting for his country is practically the same as me hiking up a canyon, but I can’t altogether discount people like Pastor John or Eldredge, because they strike a chord with so many people. What I would like to suggest, instead, is that it’s primarily a poetic, aesthetic chord, not a religious one. Of course, services should be beautiful and beauty can only reflect the greater Beauty of God, but the difference is one worth preserving, because pagan rituals can be quite as affective at fulfilling our thirst for poetry as Christian services. Quite a bit more so when the “service” is composed of singing choruses off of powerpoints.

In modern culture especially we have a habit of neglecting poetry, weather in the form of literally reading poetry aloud to each other, or hosting garden parties, or talking over beers and pipes at a local pub, or working with our hands out in nature or going for regular walks in the woods – and most especially we have neglected that kind of liturgical expression which is like acting, only true: the great cycles of the Church year. So not surprising that we should be feeling the lack: it would be a worse sign if we didn’t. But we go about it wrong; we make art or poetry or gardens or music our own private hobbies, and don’t share them very well. It’s all very well in it’s way, but doesn’t give us any of the communal beauty that many of us long for.

When it comes to lived poetry, the most striking example for me is always monasteries – especially Orthodox ones. I wrote about it once: things as simple as eating in silence while somone reads an edifying book, ringing bells to call us to church, enclosing every action in brackets of prayer, walking from church to breakfast in a procession while singing “Lord have mercy,” good order; and the lovely formal way everyone gets a blessing for their daily task. “You are blessed to weed the garden and then study.” My spiritual father and his family have evening prayers together every night; once a week, they process through the house with a censor and a cross, singing and blessing each of the rooms. We don’t do things like that. I don’t know how we can, but we ought. monthly or even weekly events are no substitute, because they’re just that – events. They’re the exception, not woven into the very fabric of life.

But we come across a problem: single people have a problem because our associations are too loose, and Evangelicals have a problem because it’s never the same creating a tradition as it is being part of one. If you create it, it isn’t a tradition yet; it’s fake. So… I’ll let that stand for a while, since I’m not in a position to help it for at least another month.

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2 thoughts on “Lived Poetry Part 2: Looking for a something

  1. I find this very interesting. I can offer my own personal experience about this culture of excitement. Our mutual friend D.W. explained to me that our walk with God is one that we walk together. Said church seems to be a good church for equipping people and encouraging them to do missions work. It teaches solid bible and encourages risk taking. But for people like me (or anyone who is not yet on solid spiritual footing, which I’d propose is 80% of their church congregation) that means that you are left behind unless you join in on the excitement. That’s my take at least I don’t know if you agree.

    I’ll have to research some more on poetry but you’re onto something

    • What did D. W. mean by that? You mean together with one another, or together with God? As opposed to what? Trying to make it on our own?

      I’m being somewhat disingenuous here. I write as though I’m an insider, because I used to be one. But I’m not anymore, so I don’t have much interest in making Evangelicalism better. I have much more of an interest in getting Evangelicals to become something else. But then I know thoughtful, good people who go to these churches, and are missing out on what I call “lived poetry,” not because there’s not a tradition of it, but because their denomination abandoned that tradition. So I pretend to split the difference: given this kind of church that’s strong on teaching the Bible, but doesn’t satisfy the human love for festivals, ceremony, adventure stories, and so on, what can we do? we? But I’m not part of that “we” – I just pretend like I am because I’ve found something that I’m excited about (but at the moment am separated from it by some distance).

      So I mention that at least some of us dress up aesthetics as Christianity, because Christianity should be beautiful, and it’s not. In that case, there are some straight-forward and time-tested remedies, some of which are as simple (at least conceptually) and disparate as camps, hikes, wine, pipes, (old, lovely) books, chants, stone facades, candles, incense, sculptures, prayer books, coffee, dances, gardens, and so on. That’s true in it’s way, but of course we can’t live off of aesthetics: it’s hollow in it’s way, as seeker-centrism (that is, getting rid of everything the new convert doesn’t understand) has already proved to be. But I’ve formed my conclusion, which is why I’m no longer an Evangelical: that it’s important to follow Tradition, and that there are only two viable Traditions in Christianity. Either the Western tradition that, at it’s best, always carries with it the history of Christendom; the great stone cathedrals, Latin chants (they must be remembered, even if the service is in English), monastic orders, and the great, deep reverence in which the sacraments – especially Communion – are held. Or the Eastern tradition, that always has traces of Constantinople, Moscow, Alexandria, and Antioch; icons, languages, chants, prayers, vestments, and so on. But we can’t resurrect the traditions, because they never dies: it’s really more sensible to actually become Catholic or Orthodox, and submit oneself to the Tradition. If not that, the next best thing is a Protestant tradition that is old enough to remember being Catholic, like Anglicans or Lutherans. They all have problems, of course – but it’s like the difference between being part of a family and being part of a club. Members can cherish the good and work to amend the bad.

      That’s why I’m being disingenuous. Like the author of The Train Station mentioned: we can’t just make up traditions strong enough to ring with beauty, memory, and depth. We can’t order our services or our lives by personal aesthetic preference. So from my point of view I’m suggesting the proverbial band-aid on a broken arm. Will aesthetic enterprises – “poetry” – likely make us feel better about ourselves and our lives? I imagine so. But it’s a little flimsy, all the same. It fills the same space among arty sorts that excitement fills amongst enthusiasts; it’s just in better taste. Just as postmodern churches tend to be not better, but more tasteful than Evangelical Bible churches.

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