Sacred & Profane
Memory shoves the random experience in your face sometimes, perhaps as an act of chaotic creation. Many memories from earlier times I’m not sure about, the objective truth of them or if they are the same each time they reveal themselves. What I am sure about is that the present and future change whenever these memories race back to the front of the line and collide with whatever is in the process of happening.
A professor criticizes a story that the class is discussing by calling the profanity-laced dialogue ‘gratuitous.’ It is the first time I hear the words, cursing indicates a failure of imagination.
A preacher shuts off a movie being played in a parishioner’s house because the profanity is too much. It is not his house or his movie but his kids, playing in the next room, might run out at an inopportune time. Most agree this could be a problem.
A teacher picks up a young student and shakes him by the shoulders. His head rocks back and forth. The child is silent. The teacher explains that no one curses in her class.
A theologian speaks about misplaced priorities, saying people are starving, no one gives a shit and too many are more concerned about the word ‘shit’ than the starving.
Each comes to mind as I look at a book I am about to read from, as I decide whether to read a response to Etheridge Knight, a poem about missing the point, a poem about growing out of an environment of racism. Each memory comes back and the thought occurs that reading a poem when I’m sure certain words are going to send the audience on a tangent, that it’s not simply a failure of the reader. I flip forward to another poem and proceed to read.
The idea of the profane as a failure of imagination never quite goes away. Yet in a diverse room the idea of one mind containing both profane and spiritual thoughts never goes away either. Those of us who’ve studied literature know the time discussions devote to a character’s complexity, the onion-like layers of motivations and experiences. We also know the tendency to reduce a real flesh and blood person to a simple definition – that person was a lone wolf, that person was uneducated, another person was set up for success, this one has a good heart, this one doesn’t care. It seems our crime of treating our neighbor like a cardboard cutout has infected our ability to hear the words, to understand that a person can in one moment hold The Beatitudes in one part of the brain and in a rage-filled thought about an injustice that makes him or her want to curse the author of those same Beatitudes.
It’s being human – something that seems to get lost in our desire to simplify, to work with a set of rules that is easy to predict, easy to explain and easy to apply across the board – with a consistency far from human.