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.