Well, my mama allow me to fool around all night long
Well, I may look like I'm crazy, I should know right from wrong
LED ZEPPELIN, Custard Pie
Led Zeppelin spanned a lot of different styles, but their foundation was the blues. Custard Pie is straight up blues. And you can always tell the blues songs because the lyrics are always sexual with food standing in for the real thing. In this case, the food is custard pie. There's no love. There is simply appetite.
Led Zeppelin definitely had the reputation for hedonism. The readers of this blog probably wonder why a guy dedicated to conservatism and the Catholic religion would spend time and space on a rock band infamous for drug abuse and statutory rape. I wonder myself sometimes. I think it has something to do with syzygy.
A syzygy is a pair of opposites. It is the name I give to a way of living that embraces extreme opposites. Catholicism is a religion full of syzygy with hairshirts and red wine. It embraces celibacy but also procreative and fruitful sexuality. It takes the ugliness of crucifixion and turns it into a thing of beauty. I think Jesus was a man of syzygy fasting for 40 days and nights but also accused of drunkenness and gluttony. This was in contrast to John the Baptist who lived a life of total and severe austerity. Basically, Jesus was a man of sorrows, but He still managed to have a good time once in awhile. I think Belloc captures this spirit in these lines:
People tend to do one of two things. They either go to a single extreme, or they strive for that elusive concept known as "balance." Syzygy is simply embracing a double extreme. It is the fast and the feast. It is the silence and the music. People want all of one and none of the other, but this never works.Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,There’s always laughter and good red wine.At least I’ve always found it so.Benedicamus Domino!
My syzygy philosophy sounds like it would never work, but it does for some strange reason. I work very long hours in a job that is physically demanding. I eat vegan, and I fast. And I try to not let a week go by without having a few beers and enjoying some music and literature. I work a blue collar job and devote my leisure time to cerebral pursuits. This syzygy of pain and pleasure seems natural to me now.
There are certain pleasures I eschew because I consider them sinful. I don't smoke dope or use drugs. I enjoy beer, but I never get drunk. I do not view pornography. I also don't use tobacco in any form though I don't think smoking is a sin. But I like a good meal and a good book. I like museums and parks. I like music including Led Zeppelin. I think Chesterton put it best when he wrote, "In Catholicism, the pint, the pipe, and the Cross can all fit together." That is syzygy.
The enemies of syzygy are the Baptists and the hedonists. Baptists want to take all the fun out of life by banning beer and dancing. Hedonists want to take all the pain out of life by dipping out of work and indulging in promiscuity and gluttony. The irony is that Baptists eschew fasting while hedonists end up doing a lot of damage to themselves.
Another aspect of syzygy has to do with darkness. It is one thing to experience the pain of work or exercise followed by the comforts of good food and cold beer. It is another thing to endure the dark night of the soul. I have endured many dark nights, and I know I will endure many more.
St. John of the Cross is the expert on this sort of thing. He wrote, "Desolation is a file, and the endurance of darkness is preparation for great light." In that brief quotation is a sublime mystery and a possible answer to the problem of evil and suffering. I've endured many physical hardships, but none of them compare to the feeling of desolation in your soul. I've had times of ecstasy, but I have endured years believing God wasn't even there. Here are some words taken from a cellar wall found in Germany during the Holocaust:
I believe in the sun even
when it is not shining.
I believe in love even
when I cannot feel it.
I believe in God even
when He is silent.
We do not know who wrote those words, and I assume that person died in the Holocaust. Life is full of darkness. It is no use trying to think away or wish away this darkness. You must remember that in the blackest of night that the sun still shines. God is always there and always will be.
My Protestant friends don't get any of this. There was a time when I didn't get it either. Protestants are like kids that flunk kindergarten in order to remain there. They wish to live in a perpetual world of finger paints and cookies and nap time. This is why they learn nothing of history or the Bible and wish for nothing more than saccharine words of false comfort. Then, something happens to force them out of this kindergarten of the soul.
Both Protestants and Catholics suffer, but to be Protestant is to be surrounded by Job's comforters and their insinuation that your troubles are your own doing. Catholics know better. To be Christian in this world is to know grief and pain and darkness. I am at the stage of my life where I am no longer surprised or dismayed at the hardships. I know worse is to come and then death. I cling to Christ in this long night. That is what life is. It is the long night before the dawning light of Heaven.
Night is not entirely dark. There is the moon and the stars. There is candlelight. Those lights are there to comfort us. Likewise, in the dark nights of the soul, we should find comfort in our prayers and in the words of others who have suffered. The temptation is to abandon our prayers believing that God is not there. You should resist this temptation. God is always there even if you don't feel His presence.
I embrace this darkness or "night" with my fiction. A reader once called me "Charles Noir," and I have liked the name such that I thought it would be a good pen name to use as a separation between the light of my non-fiction and the night of my fiction. Two of my favorite writers are Flannery O'Connor and Cormac McCarthy who both embrace the darkness and the grotesque and the gothic in their work. The characters in Noir World as I call it are all sinners fumbling in the dark. Sometimes, they glimpse the light. Other times, they close their eyes to it. It depends on the story.
At this point, the Gentle Reader asks a question. Does Charlie suffer from depression? I do not suffer from depression. I suffer from life. Depression is closing one's eyes and seeing nothing but darkness even if there is light. My eyes are open. Sometimes, there is night. Other times, there is day. It is just syzygy, and I embrace both night and day. I don't try to make it night all the time, and I don't try to make it day all the time either.
I take great joy in my faith and in my wife and in my friends. I try and maintain a sense of humor in all of it. Life is not always joy or grief. It is a mixture of the two. It helps to step back for a bit and enjoy the small things in life. They are refreshment for the journey.