I have recently been re-reading the poetry of e.e. cummings. When I was younger, I was fascinated by his poetry, and he had a major influence on me. To be honest, it was probably not for the better. Putting my personal story aside, I have been fascinated by one poem in particular which is a scathing critique of “religion.”
He writes:
the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds
(also, with the church’s protestant blessings
daughters, unscented shapeless spirited)
they believe in Christ and Longfellow, both dead,
are invariably interested in so many things –
at the present writing one still finds
delighted fingers knitting for the is it Poles?
perhaps. While permanent faces coyley bandy
scandal of Mrs. N and Professor D
…. the Cambridge ladies do not care, above
Cambridge if sometimes in its box of
sky lavender and cornerless, the
moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy.
My first comment is that his poem seems like a critique of a kind of “comfortable” Christian society that lacks the spontaneity and creativity that the poet seems to favor throughout his works. These days, this becomes a common caricature of the rigid and pious Christian who appears joyless. In contrast, movies and the culture favor the artist who is spontaneous and free-spirited; if not the artist, at least the adventurer who passionately engages life.
My response is that true spontaneity and creativity do not come through giving into the disordered impulses of our fallen nature. The freedom which e.e. cummings and other artists like him exult is not true freedom. True freedom is found in our loving communion with the Father, through the Son, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Through the action of the Holy Spirit, we are free from the law of sin and death, and become adopted children of God.
The portrait of the pious and uptight “Cambridge lady” must be contrasted with the image of the saint on fire with the love of Christ. One is a shadow of religion, and the other is religions true goal, the perfection and interior freedom of the human person.
Although external adventures and engagements can be meaningful and fulfilling, the true adventure is interior. Through prayer, the height of which is the Mass, we enter into a journey that will continue into eternity. I would argue that the longing of the poet is fulfilled not the true the pursuit of worldly pleasures, but through authentic Mysticism and Contemplation.
If e.e. cummings critique is valid, it is for this reason. The comfortable Christian is not a true Christian because that person has failed to make the interior journey into the heart. This person’s religion becomes a false shadow of the true love that is supposed to be at the heart of genuine piety. I think his poem may be a little on the harsh side, but it is fascinating to consider his critique in my own life. Is my practice of Christianity lifeless? Do I lack the fruits of the Holy Spirit in my life? These questions make for a good examination of conscience.