Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Lenses of Passion

There is something terribly unEnglish about the power ballad. Power Ballads, I think, are a bit of an 1980s phenomenon, but they have influenced much in today’s popular music. The archetype seems to be Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. There is a lot of investment in a physical expression of the passion within the heart focussed through the lens of an ideal romantic love. Why is it unEnglish? I think my American readers would rather guffaw at the sight of Tony Blair or David Cameron belting out some power ballad on the X-Factor. Being very, very English, I would probably snigger in polite company but go into my room to let out a sizable bellow of laughter – but then again, perhaps not.

Power ballads are an expression of fervent emotion, and it’s not surprising that we get a kick out of them as they are designed to resonate with the unexpressed passions that lie within the heart. Towards the end of the night, the Karaoke floor is often occupied by someone belting out something like “Take on me” by Aha, or “Want you back” by Take That, inhibitions drowned by a plethora of alcoholic beverages. This doesn’t happen during the day, and usually not without alcohol, this is precisely when our guard is down and we cease to protect those sentiments deep within us which we would rather not express.

Well, why not?

We have passions that burn within us which do rage and clamour to be heard, begging to be expressed. There are things we’d dearly love to say, but dare not. There are songs we’d like to sing, verses we’d like to recite, great acts that we’d like to do, but we dare not, and would rather lock them away inside us, perhaps only revealing them to those we’d really trust. Like an awkward teenager struggling to find something to say to the pretty girl who has just caught his eye, we shrink with embarrassment, loathing ourselves for even feeling these passions in the first place.

We lock them away and rely only on those who have dared to let that passion burn in public. This is why many of us need the poets, the songwriters, the artists, and the sculptors in order to give voice to what burns within us. These have the skill to tap into aspects of our humanity and focus it through a lens, a lens shaped by their exercising their special skills and thus allowing it to ignite one very particular fire.

These are brave souls.

We cannot let these passions escape because we fear their consequences. They reveal so much about our identities, our deepest desires and thus our most sensitive vulnerabilities. We conceal our passions for pretty much the same reasons that we wear clothes. Restraint of passion is as much to be expected in polite society as sobriety of dress is. It seems that we cannot deal with too much of other people’s humanity and we cannot cope with sharing too much of our own. Yet, humanity is, in the eyes of God, infinitely precious and intensely passionate. We are intended to love and express that love in a way that reaches out to others yet respects the boundaries that they set by which they cope with life. Becoming ultimately very vulnerable, naked and exposed, is an act of supreme intimacy. In some way, we all crave it, simply because we all hurt, we all want to be happy, and when we find joy, we want to express it as best we can. Yet, the poet, the composer, and the artist have their lens. It focusses the passion, gives it voice and form, and thereby prevents the fire from burning others, though it allows some heat to escape.

The destiny of each human being is to shine like a star in Eternity. Yet the burning of a star is too much for another to bear. We must acquire a lens, a focus, by which we can concentrate the heat of our humanity to burn our identity in the world to the greater glory of God and for the joy of others.
Every human being is religious – bound by a code of belief. It may be a faith in Science, or it may be a faith in God. That binding provides us with a lens by which we can focus the heat of our humanity deep within the world, revealing the joy that it is to be human in a universe that is largely indifferent to it.

Likewise, it opens ourselves up to lamentation where that is needed. We see so much that is terrible, atrocity after atrocity, torture after torture – Humanity using the heat of its being to impose its will on the innocent. We see and we wish to scream out in pain along with the victim, to voice our rage at the perpetrator, and even to the ears of God against His apparent indifference. Yet, how destructive our rage and fury! We end up committing the same atrocities with an unfocussed passion if we throw the lens away.

This is how the words of the poet are prophecy. They give us a language by which we may voice our passions in such a way as to speak yet not reveal too much of ourselves beyond that which is beneficial.

For the Christian, we have two lenses like a telescope that allow us to live human lives that burn with passion and yet express it well. The first lens is that of Holy Scripture, the greatest anthology of poetry every gathered and inspired by no less than the Holy Ghost, God Himself. Yet, this lens requires another lens to focus it, and to give it the finesse of expression that we need in order to cry out in joy and jubilation, misery and lamentation, fury and indignation to the Almighty. This is Liturgy – the “work of the people”, Holy Tradition, the teaching of the Church, the lex orandi. Through these two lenses, we cast our words out into the deep. We pray for the World and let the World hear our pray that it may have hope.

Of course, God sees the fire of our humanity, after all, He ignited it. He has also allowed Himself to be burned by it so that He can reach into the very depth of our souls and passions and redeem it from being quenched by the icy coldness of Hell. In turn, the Christian must allow himself to be burned by the heat of others’ passions. We must never lose our passion for Christ and for humanity! Nor must we squander it, nor leave it unfocussed, nor allow the fire to scorch others through unfettered intellectual or physical violence. Instead, trusting in God always, we must dare to find our lens in life by which we can focus our passions into the world and ignite the fire of Love. Love is far more than an emotion. It burns deeper than any worldly passion, but finds its expression through our deepest passions. Focussed by Scripture and Tradition, we will truly set the world on fire in the love of God!

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