The Sacred and the Profane

This morning I’ve been reading “A Defense of Ardor” by Adam Zagajewski, a poet and essayist. The word, “ardor” particularly intrigued me, so here’s the definition: 1. great warmth or intensity as of emotion, passion, or desire; strong enthusiasm or devotion, zeal; intense heat, as of fire, from Latin ardor: to burn, glow.

Two other small, interesting pieces from the dictionary: the Indo-European root, as, also means to burn or glow – in other words, ardor has a long and unchanged history; the second interesting piece is there’s only a total of nine entries in the dictionary that begin ard – so if you look up ardor, careful about skimming the page too fast because you’ll miss the ard section; oh, and a third interesting piece is that arduous (demanding great care or effort) immediately follows ardor. Which seems to make a lot of sense if you think about it: ardor takes effort.

But all this wandering around is to say that Zagajewski examines ardor and its opposite irony. “We’re always ‘in between’ and our constant motion always betrays the other side in some way.” In other words, we reach for the heights and we discard that to fall to the bottom; if we’re always in ardor, “lunacy lies in wait” but if we’re always in irony, boredom ensues.

We seem to be in an age of irony, certainly the time we live in is pretty zany. The sacred has been profaned with all the sordid details of church leadership – across all denominations – and the same goes for politics. We’ve pulled the curtain back to reveal no wizard, but a little pudgy man manipulating levers.

I’m with Zagajewski in chosing ardor over irony, not a fan of Jon Stewart or Bill Maher although I know as a progressive, I’m sort of in left field with that one. Not a fan of cutting people down to size but prefer instead to lift to some idealized view that perhaps isn’t any more possible than the irony.

Do we use irony to save ourselves from feeling? From falling into despair? Or do we use it because we feel betrayed by that which we once felt sacred and can no longer believe and wish to punish because we once believed?

Has our age completely denied metaphysical yearnings? Hope, faith, and the greatest of these, love.

I don’t have answers. I’m meandering through the complexities like everyone else, but Zagajewski says it far better than I’ve been able to.

“Perhaps, then, true ardor doesn’t divide; it unifies. And it leads neither to fanaticism n0r to fundamentalism. Perhaps one day ardor will return to our bookstores, our intellects.”