Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Jibbering of Prayer

Fr Dwight Longenecker wrote this recently about a tympanum at Chartres.

Sometimes my heart is simply full with the glory, the splendor the majesty, the fullness of the Catholic faith.

I can't express it, but this doorway at Chartres speaks for me. I wish I could place it before you life sized--in the fullness of its position as part of the whole cathedral, but here it is.

Some of the great mystics speak about the edgy jibbering of prayer, where the heart wants to give vocal expression but the mind hasn't the concepts to express what is in the depths. There is a compulsion at times to make tangible what is intangible, at other times the soul seeks to bury itself in ever deeper silence, unwilling to break the spell of the touch of beauty.

I am sure that isn't "contemplation", maybe it is pure feeling, not even prayer. Feelings should never to be misunderstood as prayer, but is a very important adjunct to prayer. There is something about the religious experience that demands beauty, whether that comes from human artifice or natural beauty or simply simplicity and good order. Music above all seems the natural ally to this type of experience. I was speaking to a young boy, about seven or eight, about why he loved singing the chant of the Mass, he talked about when he sang the Gloria or the Sanctus, he didn't quite know what it meant, but he knew he was praising God in the Gloria or bowing down in his heart in the Sanctus, the very vagueness of his Latin added to his experience of prayer, it transcended words and even rationality and suspect enabled him to transcend himself.

I remember reading somewhere about charismatism in the Catholic Church, the author said: when Latin went out, tongues came in. I think this might account for the increased popularity in some parts of the world for the increasing popularity amongst the young of the Extraordinary form of the Mass.

Prayer, like the communication between between lovers, is so often about indirect communication and ambiguity, the necissity to repeat, to jibber, to point successively, to stammer, to be articulately inarticulate, to repeat the same thing, in a different tone or with a slightly different emphasis, or even to be struck dumb, or even silent, which might be why contemplative monks are often good poets but rarely good preachers.

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