The Poetic Life of the Christian – Part 2
While I do not suffer from color blindness, I do have a condition that might best be described as “beauty blindness.” I simply need help from others to see many of the lovely things all around me that I might miss. Thankfully, the Lord has placed four bright beacons of beauty in my life, in the persons of my wife and three daughters, who help me with this. Miriam is constantly pointing out to me such things as the flowers on a walk I would not have seen, the piece of music I would not have heard, or those sweet moments in our children’s lives I would miss because I’m distracted with other matters. My daughters’ bright faces, love of music, active lives, and joyous spirits keep reminding their dad of the glories of God seen in the ways He has made this world overflow exuberantly with so much artistry.
Through these ladies in my life I have become more attuned to poetry and song as well. Indeed, it was one of my daughters, reading to me a poem one day she was excited to share, who unknowingly inspired me to speak on this subject and then write these posts. In the first post of three we saw how the Christian life is like poetry because it is to be a contemplative one. We now turn to the subject of laughter and beauty.
The Christian Life is Poetic Because it to be One of Laughter & Beauty
Some of the wise English teachers that I had growing up knew how to get young boys to pay attention to poetry. Let them first read some poems that are humorous. After all, appreciation for the elegant and the delicate is an acquired taste. Why not start where young boys can relate, then move them to higher pursuits? Poetry can make us laugh at the absurdities of life by mocking those who deprecate the kind, the lovely, or the true, which then creates more desire for those attributes. In the example from the first post of Proverbs 9 where Wisdom is personified, later in that same chapter Folly is also pictured as a lady seeking a young man’s attention. Notice how Lady Folly’s rudeness, crudeness, and lewdness are designed to make the reader detest her ways by comparison and thus draw forth more yearnings for Woman Wisdom:
The woman of folly is boisterous,
She is naive and knows nothing.
She sits at the doorway of her house,
On a seat by the high places of the city,
Calling to those who pass by,
Who are making their paths straight:
“Whoever is naive, let him turn in here,”
And to him who lacks understanding she says,
“Stolen water is sweet; and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
But he does not know that the dead are there,
That her guests are in the depths of Sheol.
The poem “The Donkey” by G.K. Chesterton employs this type of humor to stress a point. Chesterton takes on the voice of donkey, such a strange creature that he imagines him being made at a time when the world was absurd, to point out the folly of those who fail because of arrogance to see their proper place in this world.
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
Having the donkey say “I also had my hour,” by thinking the cheering was for him instead of Jesus, reminds us through knowing laughter how ugly and monstrous man can be in his pride.
As we observe the brokenness of this fallen world, we can see through grace-opened eyes spiritual lessons that possess a beauty even in the smallest of things. One day I wrote a short poem called “Funny How,” based on a few ants’ struggle with a ladybug, that saw in that tiny event a reminder of redemption. Yet we have available to us treasure troves of truly beautiful expressions of our salvation, from lyrical writings of church fathers, rhythmically-written prayers such as “Paradoxes” from the The Valley of Vision, hymns that capture Biblical truth, or poems like “Immanuel” of the great preacher Charles Spurgeon. As Paul told the Philippians, our minds should be filled with what is truthful, honorable, and lovely (Philippians 4:8). Clothed in the beauty of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, our artistic tastes should be developed to love what is lovely.
Indeed, we should be those who appreciate and celebrate the beauty the Lord has placed all around us. Many of us know William Shakespeare, the bard of Avon, as a playwright, but he also loved to express himself in pure poetry as well. He wrote well over a hundred sonnets, many of them expressing love. Listen to how wonderfully he compares the object of his love to a summer day, and finds the latter’s radiance dull by that comparison, in his eighteenth sonnet:
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest;
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Yet we also recognize here that which is impossible. We all know this woman of the poet’s affection will most certainly “lose possession of that fair (beauty) thou owest.” We know no one escapes the judgment that sin has brought on the beauty of this world.
That will lead us to the next post on why the Christian life is poetic, for it knows and addresses sorrow and tragedy.