Charlie's Blog: The Rain Song


The Rain Song

These are the seasons of emotion and like the wind they rise and fall
This is the wonder of devotion - I see the torch we all must hold.
This is the mystery of the quotient, quotient - Upon us all, upon us all a little rain must fall.
It's just a little rain oh yeah

The Rain Song is one of the most beautiful songs that Led Zeppelin ever recorded. Go to YouTube and listen to it now. The song stands in sharp contrast to many other songs in the Zep catalogue. That is one of the things I always appreciated about this band. They did it all. They rocked hard, but they did country, folk, ballads, etc. They did not confine themselves to a genre which most groups do today. The antithesis would be a group like AC/DC that turns out the same song again and again. Granted, that song rocks, but it made them a one dimensional type of band. They are the musical equivalent of a burger and fries.

I am on vacation this week from my day job, and I don't really feel like writing anything except these stream of consciousness essays. I suspect the reason for this is a desire for reflection and reassessment about things in my life. Yesterday, I wrote about writing in The Lemon Song post, and I spent the day in a kind of blue funk about why I bother writing. If it made money and afforded me a living, my question would be answered. But it would be the wrong answer. If it made the world a better place in terms of change, that would also be an answer but also the wrong answer.

I keep a thing on my fridge with the dictum from St. Benedict to pray and work. There is no ambiguity in those two dictums. You know why you pray, and you know why you work. Writing is neither of these things. Granted, writing can be turned into prayer but so can dishwashing. Ultimately, writing is a form of play. Writing is not utilitarian nor is it devotional. It is cultural. The epiphany that hit me yesterday was that I don't know why we pursue culture. The residue of my Calvinist Puritan days still clings to me.

Puritanism was the desire of Calvinist types to remove the last vestiges of Catholicism from the Church of England. They failed in this attempt and ultimately were driven to the shores of the New World to rebuild life along these puritan lines. The Puritans despised things like vestments, stained glassed windows, ornament, and all the rest. Catholicism revels in it. Now, Puritanism died out a long time ago, but its fundamental impulse lives on today in the minimalist aesthetic. Everything is reduced to the utilitarian in minimalism.

Things like beauty, art, music, and culture seem like a waste which is why the Puritans purified such things from their existence especially in the religious realm. But these things still had a way of sneaking back into their lives. For me, writing seems frivolous since it seems to serve no greater purpose. My mind is not right on this, but I am trying to get there. I just know that I should keep writing. I just haven't figured out why I should keep writing.

Society considers the time and effort spent on creating art and music to be a colossal waste of time and resources. This becomes crystal clear the moment a son or daughter tells their hardnosed parents that they will be pursuing a liberal arts major when they go off to college. Dad would prefer something like engineering or accounting or pre-med. This is because these fields promise money which is the supreme value in our society. This mindset saturates the American mindset which is why the USA stands in stark contrast to a place like Europe. Nothing like this scene exists in America.

The fundamental difference between Europe and America is that Europe has been fundamentally Catholic while America has been Protestant. The result is that Europe is beautiful while America is ugly. When Americans do pursue cultural things, they tend to be plain, ugly, or in hideous bad taste. As Europe sheds its Catholic past in favor of secularism, it adopts this same aesthetic or lack of one. The Bauhaus and subsequent movements are prime examples of this loss of beauty.

This materialist utilitarian minimalism is not an aesthetic so much as the absence of an aesthetic. Even the Muslims with their iconoclasm manage to do better than this dreck. But what does this have to do with my writing?

I resent my writing when I have left some chore undone or consider the hatred of my job. My writing becomes the abused child of my world as it takes the blame for everything bad in my life. I think of how much I could have accomplished with my life had I not been tapping away for hours at this keyboard. This child might have once held the promise of doing something great, but I see that it has Down's syndrome and will be dependent upon me until the day I die. Such a child still renders benefits to parents, but they are mostly emotional and spiritual. People of the atheist/materialist mindset would say such a child should have been aborted, and they even go so far as to argue for infanticide. In this, we see how a pure materialism drains out the loveliness and goodness of human beings. This is also reflected in the aesthetics of emptiness.

It bewilders me to see some Catholic Church built by a brutalist architect. Brutalism is ugly. It reflects a worldview in opposition to Catholicism. Catholicism is for beauty and culture.

Truth, beauty, and goodness are things we pursue for their own sakes. They serve no other end except to be reflections of God. It is easy to accept and appreciate a painting of Christ or Our Lady, but what about the Mona Lisa? What about culture that does not serve an explicitly spiritual end?

Tolkien criticized Lewis's Narnia books because of their allegorical and didactic nature. Similarly, Flannery O'Connor was not terribly interested in writing books of an explicitly Catholic nature or being merely a writer for the diocesan newspaper. Granted, both writers wrote fiction informed by their Catholic worldviews, but we see that many people read their works without making the Catholic connection. It's like a furniture maker that builds a chair for the glory of God, but the customer buys the chair because he thinks it would make a comfortable seat. Similarly, should an architect make an office building with the same sense of aesthetic as he would with a cathedral?

Louis Sullivan seemed to think so. His buildings rival many of the churches built today in terms of beauty. Such buildings would probably not be built again today because of the "waste" of the exquisite ornamentation on the outside.

What purpose does this ornamentation serve? It serves nothing more than to lift one's spirits. It has no utilitarian function beyond that. Some people will try to make a claim of therapeutic benefit since all things spiritual have been reduced to psychology. Writing is reduced to "journaling." Music becomes "meditation." Blah blah blah.

Culture occupies the midspace between worship and work. The Puritans were good at worship and work, but they were deficient on the culture. When people do embrace culture today, it tends to be a Bohemian anatgonism to worship and work as wannabe rock stars quit their jobs to smoke dope and play raucous rock music.

Culture is a bridge between the worldly and the divine. It is worth the time, money, and energy we spend on it. As such, I can keep writing because I see the true purpose of it where I did not see it before. I thought of writing as a waste of life, but life is more than eating, drinking, and grinding it out for a paycheck. Those things are important, but they just aren't everything. This is why I feel like I am just waiting to die when my life is reduced to those mere things.