Friday, May 19, 2017

Let Our Voices Blend With Theirs

Gentleness, meekness, mildness - these are things vaunted in word but often ridiculed or rejected (even if only in thought) when encountered. The meek are deemed weak or sentimental and perhaps even simple-minded because they shun the frenetic activities of the aggressive and power-driven.

My mind marches along at a slow pace, turning things over and over again, like checking and double-checking to make sure the stove is off and the door locked. It does not launch like a firework into the sky, sending down dazzling rains of light - it's like a slug that gropes and flinches away from pointy rocks and salt, leaving a trail of slime to show its path: where it came from and the direction it's headed in. You can track its progress and watch its binary operations. I can't keep pace with frenzy. It feels unnatural.

We desire to be loved and admired, praised and emulated. Our words and works we want propagated but we are seldom satisfied to enter into harmonious melodies with others. The strident voice is the one heard - the one that shouts louder, which is most out of tune, standing apart from all the rest. That is the one we often remember.

And we listen to it time and again. The forceful are called clever in our encounters and we point to them and say they speak truths because they speak in high contrast. Their rhetoric pulls us into the eddies of their different worldviews and their agility of mind and strength of conviction sway us. Truth is a clarion call, isn't it? A mark of truth is that it cuts?

We start to mimic, to grow coarser and less forgiving as we emulate the sharp. I see men and women begin to simplify their ideas and their voices until they all sound alike even when meaning to be opposites. And their likeness is all harsh cries and subjugation. It's like when a group sings a copyrighted song SO BADLY that YouTube doesn't even flag it as a copyright infringement: its algorithm can't figure out what the tune is.

There is the echo chamber of us surrounding ourselves with those who hold similar views as we back-pat ourselves. There's also the cage we impose on ourselves by echoing others. It's not that we need to be original - one of my professors once told a class to not even both trying since everything we thought and would write had been thought and written before. But we do need to be authentic.  (Heideggerian language sometimes will out.)

Very few of us, I'd like to imagine, *really* get off on calling people dumb, telling them to fuck off, or, worse, damn them to hell. But I see, for example (a mild example that I've seen happen time and again), people with kindly dispositions slide from swearing in acronyms (wtf, wtaf, etc.), to explicit swearing, to caricatures of the people whose attention they're trying to catch or whose fame they covet. It often isn't *them* and it's not *who they are* and it's not *their voice.* It's a corruption.

I DON'T have an issue with swearing (or vulgarity!) so long as it doesn't profane what is good or holy...and sometimes find it a bit boring when used badly. My grandmother saw Gone With the Wind in theaters remembers vividly the gasp that came from the audience at the line "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." That damn had solidity and weight, rhetorical impact and measure. If you're going to damn, make it good for heaven's sake!

But when those with hearts clamoring to find out and think the best of people find that this is Not How Things Are Done By Those In The Spotlight, they slowly stifle better impulses and shush the flames of charity. Reluctantly at first, they begin to change and small inroads are made until force of habit kicks in and they begin to relish this newfound cacophony since they, too, are being Noticed or are in the company of the Noticed. And their hearts become like duckweed on a pond - drifting here and there, seeking attention (everyone knows duck-weed is diva-like, yes?), becoming closed and indifferent.

The meek and gentle have no such allures. Theirs is a quiet and deep-abiding character that is not turned easily and which springs from deeper sources and has oak-like roots. Meekness seems to keep a slower pace in some ways and its very mildness is seen as a disgrace or, what seems like the greater sin, boring. A line from Whit Stillman's movie Metropolitan comes to mind:
It's incredible the eagerness of girls like you to justify the worst bastards imaginable as being sensitive and shy. But if any guy who really was shy dared talk to you, you wouldn't give him the time of day. Your eyes would glaze over.
But the gentle have strength: the strength to shore up, to refuse to be sowers of discord, the courage to pursue the promptings of the Holy Spirit. As Augustine says:
You wish to possess the earth now; take heed lest you be possessed by it. If you be meek, you will possess it; if ungentle, you will be possessed by it...For this is to be meek, not to resist your God. (Sermon 3 on the New Testament, emphasis added)
And if God calls you to be a preacher with words of fire, that is one thing. And if God calls you to be a mother who soothes her child, that's another. In hearkening to His voice, in diminishing like John the Baptist, we become more authentically ourselves: we blend our voice with those of the angelic hosts. We should not seek to assert our voice aggressively but to be conduits of the Holy Spirit.

"If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts."

NB, I am heavily influenced by this quote of Graham Greene: "I want men to admire me, but that's a trick you learn in school - a movement of the eyes, a tone of voice, a touch of the hand on the shoulder or the head. If they think you admire them, they will admire you because of your good taste, and when they admire you, you have an illusion for a moment that there's something to admire."

Also heavily influenced by re-reading Servais Pinckaers on the Beatitudes in his Sources of Christian Ethics.

Am also sort of using gentle and meek interchangeably - I know their senses are different, but they're similar. **shrugs**

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