Of God and Poems

From Christian Wiman’s “Hive of Nerves” (via Ross Douthat):

“In the Gospels Jesus is always talking to the crowds in parables, which he later ‘explains’ to his disciples. The dynamic is odd in a couple of ways: either the parables are obvious, and the explanations seem almost patronizing, or they are opaque, and the explanations only compound their opacity. (Or could it be—and I confess to relishing this possibility—that the explanations illustrate Christ’s wry sense of humor, which is nowhere else evident?) In any case, the notable point is just how little the explanations amount to, how completely the ultimate truths of the parables—just like dreams and poems—remain within their own occurrence … ‘If that’s what he means,’ says the student to the poetry teacher, ‘why doesn’t he just say it?’ ‘If God is real,’ says the parishioner to the preacher, ‘why doesn’t he simply storm into our lives and convince us?’ The questions are vastly different in scale and relative importance, but their answers are similar. A poem, if it’s a real one, in some fundamental sense means no more and no less than the moment of its singular music and lightning insight; it is its own code to its own absolute and irreducible clarity. A god, if it’s a living one, is not outside of reality but in it, of it (though in ways it takes patience and imagination to perceive). Thus the uses and necessities of metaphor, which can flash us past our plodding resistance and habits into strange new truths. Thus the very practical effects of music, myth, image, which tease us not out of reality but deeper and more completely into it.”

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