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“Comedy in a handful of dust”

Nowadays you get a lame quiz from a smart ass with some f-bombs and that is what? Comedy? I’ll show you comedy in a handful of dust. There is no spirit there. How do you send terror into a legion of demons with this? – Cubeland Mystic.

All gifts are freighted with a certain terror for those mundane devils of the world, infected as they are by the metastasis of self-interest.  And this is so with the gift of beauty foremost. So the point, of course, is not simply to send terror into legion, but once terrorized to cast legion over the edge.

Among writers, some of us practice these gifts with the sturdy tissue of words girding an edifice of lines and rhymes; others with a rail-splitting sense of dialogue firmly planted in the trackbed and soil of place; still others with flesh-and-grass insights into the human condition as sharp as a scythe’s edge; some with a mother-wit as profound as Jacob’s Well; others with the beautiful sense of comic crises – comic because Christian, critical because human – informing the landscape of the memory punctuated by pools of grace and streams of desire.

In short, the demons run from beauty because beauty is pure – and as filthy as our loins are and as scrofulous our flesh – that same intricate knit of body and soul is human and lovable and worthy of redemption, worthy of that purity because beauty itself, truth itself, love itself embodied such purity, and once known, exhibited that purity to all the world at high noon in a dry dusty place. Withering yet triumphant at the precise moment of death, humanity, body and soul, was transformed forever.

But even before God condescended to serve as the human billboard for redemption – he knew that the demons were attempting to make an end run around the mystery.  But God, of course, always has the last laugh.

And he asked him: What is thy name? And he saith to him: My name is Legion, for we are many. And he besought him much, that he would not drive him away out of the country. And there was there near the mountain a great herd of swine, feeding.  And the spirits besought him, saying: Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. And Jesus immediately gave them leave. And the unclean spirits going out, entered into the swine: and the herd with great violence was carried headlong into the sea, being about two thousand, and were stifled in the sea. 

In the transformation of the flesh, we are drawn not toward Gerasene, but it seems in an opposite but equally fitting way. St. Bernard says this of the faithful – represented by the Bride, the Church, in his 21st sermon on the Song of Songs: “[The Bride] requests…to be drawn, because ‘your righteousness is like the mountains of God,” and she cannot attain to it of her own strength. She requests to be drawn because she knows that no one comes to you unless your Father draws him.”

In our acts of making, then, we do not celebrate our flesh in its natural gravity, to be “stifled in the sea,”  a natural gravity which in any case must be overcome by the comic lightness of Christ; but it is the very comedy of our flesh – struggling to gain God’s mountain through the arc that sources in Homer as in Hopkins, and which Dante rendered explicit – that we get to work with our tools and talents.

We chronicle the hours and seasons that our Christ delivers us daily from our demons.  That’s the unique perspective, it seems, of the Christian writer. Every moment an opportunity for grace; every season an opportunity to represent, imitate, and in other ways render that grace palpable to the senses – and our sense of humour.

It was not for nothing that Christ cast legion into a semblance of human flesh, a perverse verisimilitude of man’s ingrained image of God, an exaggerated facsimile of the elements, proportions and features with which the Lord crafted the human face. It was Christ’s way of saying, “Now that’s funny!” Why funny? Because all in all, Legion sought shelter from grace in flesh, an image, a face, destined for destruction, abject and brute, unclean and committed to death. It could not, it seems, distinguishe one creature from another, one shape from another, one form from another. It was ugly and it knew no beauty and its very ugliness became incarnate in the swine. 

But with countervailing instincts our talents still obtain and maintain the power of beauty.  Even amid the ugly. Even amid the swine. Man and woman were conjoined to participate in the act of creation through marriage. In a similar way, the writer is conjoined with the comic stuff of the world. Even Shakespeare’s darkest comedy retained a comic lightness – perhaps to keep bawdy humanity grounded in the body that was God’s body too. Indeed, the writer’s castigations and exorcisms can be dramatic and – as the swine’s fate at Gerasene was meant at once to be terrible and hilarious – as risibly crude or visibly glorious as our human conditions can dream up. One of the consolations outside of Eden’s eastern gates  is our ability to retain  he gift of laughter. We learn from Christ to send our own demons headlong over the desperate cliffs from which they syllogize and declaim their solopsistic squeals of self-slaughter. We learn, also, to laugh, even if sometimes that laughter is low and guarded, grim and self-effacing. It is never a laughter that refuses to serve; it is always a laughter that understands.

The world marvels or hides behind its temple curtains because it does not know how to laugh in the face of death; but because the Christian does know, he fears nothing but God and boldly proclaims beauty in the face of the monstrous and grotesque. There’s nothing new to all this, of course. And these musings are a long winded way – uphill or down mountain, who knows? – to gain a foothold among the seven storeys. If nothing else.

And perhaps even as we look at today’s dithyrambic poets and satirical rhetoricians, even in their temeritous, middle-finger-wagging flight from the heaping shadow of God’s grandeur, headlong for the sea, these bunches and scads – I don’t say herds –  must recognize God’s grandeur for what it is. And it is for this reason that even so, Christians can afford to laugh.

Comments

  1. Churchill says:

    You’re right about long winded. And you wouldn’t be allowed on the seventh floor. Nice picture though.

  2. Cubeland Mystic says:

    JOB

    I think this is beautifully written. Actually I think it is a masterpiece, and should be read at TAC. It’s as good as any essay I’ve ever read. Long winded by whose standards? Is the Seven Storeys a reference to Dante, St. Teresa, or Merton? They all passed through my mind. If I had students I’d make them read it for sure.

    • CM,

      Many thanks. Of course I was thinking of Merton primarily (and the pun on “storeys/stories” that a writer likes to make to amuse himself), Dante peripherally, and to be honest poor St. Teresa not at all. I strike my chest in sorrow for ignorance of the allusion there.

      JOB

  3. even before God condescended to serve as the human billboard for redemption – he knew that the demons were attempting to make an end run around the mystery.

    Good stuff.

  4. ImeldaJean says:

    [comment fail]

    I can’t believe I was at college with you, once.

    Thanks.

  5. Jonathan Potter says:

    “The Gerasene Manifesto”?

    This is my favorite paragraph:

    It was not for nothing that Christ cast legion into a semblance of human flesh, a perverse verisimilitude of man’s ingrained image of God, an exaggerated facsimile of the elements, proportions and features with which the Lord crafted the human face. It was Christ’s way of saying, “Now that’s funny!” Why funny? Because all in all, Legion sought shelter from grace in flesh, an image, a face, destined for destruction, abject and brute, unclean and committed to death. It could not, it seems, distinguishe one creature from another, one shape from another, one form from another. It was ugly and it knew no beauty and its very ugliness became incarnate in the swine.

    Excellent, JOB, fascinating, brilliant, penetrating, whirling.

    Where did the image come from?

    • Thanks, Jonathan.

      I like the “whirling” especially.

      The image came from Mr. Daniel Mitsui, http://www.danielmitsui.com , who through a gracious benefactor (and famous throwdown Catholic memoirist) was commissioned to create the official image of Gerasene Writer’s Conference.

      That is the image upon which you cast your eyes.

      JOB

  6. Hurrah, that’s what I was exploring for, what a material!
    existing here at this blog, thanks admin of this site.

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