Brian’s Reflection: Monday, September 8, 2008
To living Toulouse, to Toulouse who sings
and sings with pleasure the refrains of Mengard
I raise my hat and say "Holy City,
Long may the sun spread thy power!
Long mayest thou make us joyful!"
Oh! Keep thine historic tongue ... It is the proof
that for all time thou shalt bear thine arms aloft and free:
In the language a mystery, an ancient treasure lives ...
Each year the nightingale dons new plumage,
But he keeps his song.
- Frederic Mistral, French poet & Nobel Laureate (1904),
born on this day, 1830, in Languedoc.
Never heard of Frederic Mistral, right? Well, I am particularly interested in him because I have been reading recently a history of Languedoc, and of the Cathar influence (Google if you are interested; the Cathars were a Christian offshoot of Christianity in the 13th C, condemned as heretics by Rome and viciously persecuted and murdered). I’m sorry that this poem is not in Langue d’Oc (or Occitan). It is a fascinating language! Mistral was independently wealthy. He devoted his life to the preservation of Provencal language and life.
Oh, keep thy historic tongue ….. / In the language a mystery, an ancient treasure lives …:. The same is true for the “historic tongue” of sacred writings. That tongue is “myth”, the ancient language of the imagination in which the deepest mysteries and wisdom of Life are whispered. That language evades understanding – by design – until the inner heart and ear “awaken”. But when that inner heart and ear are ready, what we need to know is heard, and the heart is stirred, and a whole hitherto unknown dimension of Life is revealed. Jesus said, Those who have ears to hear, let them hear. And so the reader at the Sacred Liturgy, having read the lesson, says, “Hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches”!
The great French spiritual director Jean Pierre de Caussade once said, "God speaks to us in everything that happens to us.” But to hear what God is saying, we must go deeper than the words. We must listen for the opening of Mystery, for the subtle response of the imagination – a kind of Occitan where “an ancient treasure lives”.