The loss of the aesthetic sensibility in the Church has weakened its ability to make its call heard in the world. Dante and Hopkins, Mozart and Palestrina, Michelangelo and El Greco, Bramante and Gaudi, have brought more souls to God than all the preachers of Texas.
Art does not need to be religious. There are great masterpieces that have no hint of religious transcendence. What I am suggesting is something more subtle and complex. Culture is a conversation. A vigorous culture contains different voices, often in active debate. The voice of religious faith enlarges and enlivens the overall dialectic of culture, even among non-believers, just as the voice of secular society keeps religious writers more alert and intelligent. Once you remove the religious as one of the possible modes of art, once you separate culture from the long-established traditions and disciplines of spirituality, you don’t remove the spiritual hungers of either artists or audience. You satisfy them more crudely with the vague, the pretentious, and the sentimental. The collapse of the culture that supported O’Connor and Porter, Powers and Merton, led to the culture that consumes teen paranormal romances, ghost reality shows, and internet Wiccans.
Fathers become traditionalists who think that their way is the only way and their battles the only battles worth fighting. Fathers are tempted to keep their hands on the levers after they have become too feeble to be of much use. Other fathers slip away into a premature obsolescence, a retirement that is nothing more than irresponsibility in golf shoes. Sons think they are the first generation to occupy Earth, ready to correct all their fathers’ mistakes and start everything over again. Fathers are tempted by the decadence of traditionalism; sons become revolutionaries. Fathers pull back; sons pull forward. Together they threaten to rip the family fabric.
Few thinkers have devoted as much attention to these problems as the German-American thinker Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy. He focused on the role of speech in maintaining and repairing human relations. When fathers speak, they have to throw a line into the future in the hope that they will continue to influence the world after death. When sons speak, they have to throw a line to the past in an effort to retain and recover what their fathers have done and taught. Fathers have to speak ahead as well as backward; sons must learn to look back, not just forward. Families forge a legacy when both parents and children act against type. Speech forms an intersection of past and future, a shared “present time.” More prosaically, generational gaps can be bridged when parents talk and listen to children, and children listen and talk to their parents. Speech is medicine for healing the wounds of time.
Peter Leithart. Fathers and Sons: a post over at First Things.
I read this today, shortly after finding out that my third child will be a daughter. Naming a child feels like the same process as writing a poem, except you only get two words. Distilling all the desire you have for your child into a couple of words that have gathered meaning over the centuries, and attempting to cast that meaning into the future of a person whose personality will develop so largely outside of your influence must be the most sacred and most common (sacramental) function of language.