Myself and some nerdy friends are slowly combing through Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age in a reading group. A lecturer in college wouldn’t let a lowly undergrad like me join his post-grad reading group so I made my own up out of unemployed archeologists and weirdos who cut up dead people as a job. I am taking many more notes than I did the first time around and it is a lovely discipline, much more satisfying than the shallow depths of my undergrad tasks.
Re-reading sections of Chuck’s magisterial work brought my thoughts around to the Gospels. I have re-read them literally without count. And still details that I never picked up on appear to me. I can give the Gospel of Mark a decent read-through if I have a spare hour. I have set aside 28 hours over the next few months to do A Secular Age justice. There is no comparison between the depth I find in Mark and the depth I find in Taylor.
Now you may expect me to extrapolate from the inverse proportional genius at work in these two texts that one is obviously inspired by the Holy Spirit directly and the other is a very fine work of socio-philosophy or whatever you want to call it. But that is not where my thoughts went.
I love poetry in theory. But in reality the only poetry books I have ever pored over are the ubiqituous fixture of the Irish adolescence, Soundings, and some of the early books of Séamus Heaney. I am obliged as an Irishman to love Guinness, to have opinions about military neutrality and to like Séamus Heaney.
But in all honesty I don’t read much poetry and nor can I. Sometimes I pick up books I bought for my wife, poems of Eavan Boland or Rita Ann Higgins and I find myself turning to short poems, scanning for any hint of a rhyme. I appreciate deeply the habit of Jason Goroncy has of posting poems like this beauty, but I know that if I bought the collected works of R.S. Thomas, I’d end up leaving it in some untouched corner of my living room.
So my thought is this: are those who are able to savour poetry more naturally inclined to be able to read the Gospels with insight? Has my tendency towards reading novels and essays left me without the appropriate tools to read the texts I am most interested in- the Gospels? I can digest 50 pages of Taylor before breakfast but I can’t regurgitate a single parable without days of work. Is this in part because I shy away from reading the densely coiled lines of a long stanza?
Your Correspondent, How can life be so complex, when he just wants to sit here and watch you undress?