What could I leave you, that would penetrate all the darkness in the world, clear all the hurdles of the mind, and force you to set yourself aside, along with every dream you ever dreamt about how it was all supposed to be? Truth…and the courage to claim it.
“As Thoreau said, most fishermen spend their entire lives without knowing it is not the fish they are after…I came to Christ not because I was looking for a religion, but because I was looking for the Truth, and, having found it, I knew it must be true across the realms of human culture.” ~ John Eldredge, Fathered by God.
I was presented with two reflections from my past this week that I struggled to reconcile with each other. The first was the painful truth about the very same St Elizabeth’s Catholic Church that housed my favorite childhood memories. Our Boy Scout Troop 253 held our weekly meetings in the basement/gym of the church. I grew from a young boy into a young man in the very space that, fifty years later, may have housed the destruction of more young men than any other church property in Bergen County. The second was a photo posted of a music industry party from around the same time period. It was the early days of the so-called sexual revolution. The two not man-not woman freaks in the photo prompted my comment, “What the (%*#@) were we thinking?” This led to an interesting exchange between my friend and I, “Things were changing faster than any of us could figure out…fun.” He said. “Yes, I know…I was right there riding that wave. Still…”, I replied. “Hey, as long as no one got hurt.” I let it go…it seemed crazy to look back on something that most of us treasured as a period in our lives that was full of excitement, creativity, great music and new adventures. After all, we were boldly going where no men had ever gone before, right?
And then I read Professor Esolen’s observation of his poetless students. “We are suffering from cultural dementia, muddied and dulled by the strokes of the modern…Mos amandi, mos cantandi: as we sing, so shall we love. If we don’t sing, our love will become, or must already be, frail and thin. Singing is what the lover does, said Augustine. To know the truths of our faith, but not to sing them, is like knowing that God exists, but never to feel His presence; it is to know that we are loved, but never to feel the race of the heart.”…and I realized God was connecting Eldredge to Esolen for me. Eldredge describes the 5 essential stages of a man; Boyhood, Cowboy, Warrior, Lover, and King. I introduced Eldredge last week as the author who wrote on the importance of masculinity nine years before college professors condemned it as “toxic”. In fact, boys denied their cowboy and warrior stages become what Eldredge refers to as unfinished men. He describes the painful consequence of a boy deprived of the essential middle three, forced directly into kingship by the absent father. Esolen is describing a generation missing the spark that ignites the middle three.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God; It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck His rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod, And all is seared with trade, bleared, smeared with toil, And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. Yet for all this, nature is never spent: There lives the dearest freshness deep down things, And though the last lights off the black west went, Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs, Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with, ah! bright wings. ~ Gerard Manley Hopkins, God’s Grandeur
All of this brought me back to my own boyhood stage. How blessed we were to experience it fully, growing up in Wyckoff, NJ before the iron cage of modernism came clanging down around us. I knew Kipling. They say hindsight is 20/20…looking back now, after reading Eldredge and Esolen, we can see the crippling of men by stifling their boyhood with layers of protection…no more falls, scrapes, and bruises. No more losing and failing…trophies for all! No more risk…imagination sucked dry by the technology in their hands. Molded top-down, manless men who laugh at the same jokes, wear the same clothes, and chase the same wants. Not a warrior in the mix…no Kings in the making…just an army of voracious consumers. All without passion. All confined within the permitted boundaries. Churchman, businessman, beggar-man, thief…all the same.
“The great danger for the warrior is not defeat but success…the lover is awakened when the man comes to see that the poetic is far truer than the propositional and the analytical, and whatever physiology might say…”
The lover here is a different me…hard to describe really. To sing the song of songs is the inverse message in a bottle. It is not sent from a lonely stranded soul in need of rescue, but to the lonely stranded souls who’ve no idea they’re even lost, or that such a kingdom as this even exists at all.