Holy Language is Missing

Light of truth

Public spectacle of mob lynching of unfortunate human beings for reasons of child–snatching or cow-stealing and crowds watching curiously, but with astounding patience, and taking videos, as if a beautiful tableau passes by – artistic! – have become disturbingly common. It is like a banquet in the midst of a plague. Moral shudder has disappeared, leaving behind a justifying look of hate for humans. Violence finally and painfully exposes the nerve of life. It is a presence so abhorrent that any sensible person would wish for absence. Indeed, it feels like an absence, however impure an absence, in as much as one’s emotions fend it off. Violence is metaphysically at the crossroads: as sensation, it is immediacy, but as an act its aim is the negation of being. It both constitutes and annihilates reality. It is what alone is left to embrace, but is something that cannot be embraced – a spiritual dilemma. Those seeking relief in it need relief from it. It exacerbates scepticism if not of being then of the value of being. “Is there a measure on earth? There is none,” cried poet Hoelderlin. A nun is accusing a bishop of sexually abusing her; he retorts with the same antagonistic language. Scandals erupt one after another. The light houses are closing their eyes; there is sheer darkness and putrid stench in the atmosphere. Where is God? Is thunder the wrath of a God in eclipse? Holy language is missing. Strangely, there are those who come in defence of the Church on social media, but their language is abusive and defaming. The mass wills, and the result is pure negativity that is spread without any felt or recognizable end. An archbishop told me, “I do not want to speak but keep quiet, kneel down.” It is indeed an honest reaction. But we cannot escape into the void of denial.

Our evangelical path is not simple silence but honest confession, as that of Augustine: “Lord, Thou knowest. Have I not confessed against myself my transgressions unto Thee, and Thou, my God, hast forgiven the iniquity of my heart? I contend not in judgment with Thee, who art the truth; I fear to deceive myself; lest mine iniquity lie unto itself.”

Holy language is disappearing within us. Prophetic spirit is not dead, but we have to rethink it. Ecstatic visionaries and visiting spirits twist and turn everyday language to provoke new and unexpected connections and reversals, sometimes of great cosmological or social import. “If I say, I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name, But then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jer 20:9). Regardless of how one explains the inspiration behind such writings, the spiritual person must not ignore the possibility that the writer was indeed exploring something deeply personal. Perhaps, we might even return to prophetic poetry, which is the expression of divine pathos expressed through the prophet. The human mind finds and gives voice to what it understands to be divine, eternal, and overwhelming. Dietrich Bonhoeffer himself was skilled at the piano. At the age of fourteen, and to the surprise of his parents, he declared that he was going to become a theologian. When his family criticized the Church as weak and self-serving, Bonhoeffer responded, “If the Church is really what you say it is, then I shall have to reform it!” In his work Discipleship Bonhoeffer wrote: “To flee into invisibility is to deny the call. Any community of Jesus which wants to be invisible is no longer a community that follows Him.”

Such are destroyers of what we call tradition, in order to change the whole universe for man. They are creators of the tradition of the new, a new point of view and a new dimension to our view of us. The apocalyptic poet T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men is an example of absentist poem, which is also apocalyptic. In it he asserts: “This is the way the world ends … Not with a bang but a whimper.” Poetry is the most original form of language and it is the natural foundation of spiritual life. Poetic thinking is the foundation of religious and theological thinking, and is necessary for spiritual growth. The poet who mourned the absence of holy language told other poets:

“Yet us it behooves, you poets, to stand
Bare-headed beneath God’s thunderstorms,
To grasp the father’s ray, itself, with our own hands,
And to offer to the people
The heavenly gift wrapt in song.”

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