Messiness as Grace

September 7, 2015

A while back I was listening to this 1877 recording of St. Therese’s cousin, Jeanne, sing one of Therese’s poems — An Unpetalled Rose.

And it struck me. Despite the imperfect recording — the humanity and authenticity of the person singing, and the author, St. Therese herself, comes through. Today we seem to have the converse. Our delivery is perfect, technically. The machine-noise is absent but our humanity has become proportionally distorted, or obfuscated, by machine perfection.

On a larger scale, one must ask questions: Can the machine really remain absent in our modern life? How can it distort humanity when it allows us to sound clear to one another?

As I type I’m reminded of the film Star Wars and how George Lukas introduced us to dirty space. The robots had rust. The Millennium Falcon had problems with its internal plumbing. Dirt and imperfection depicted in media capable of perfection seem to make things more human. But it’s a sharp sword. We won’t tolerate poor audio or skipped frames in film. We like the telling of human stories in a perfectly delivered way. But perhaps that is a departure from the past.

From left, Celine Martin; Isidore Guerin, standing; Celine Guerin; Francis La Neele; Jeanne Guerin; Marie Guerin

There is a certain fearlessness in this old recording. Jeanne and her husband don’t care that the sound will be imperfect, scratchy, and barely audible. Rather they celebrate the song and that it was performed with heart.

Are we too focused on delivery mechanisms, on marketing perfection, to the degree that we lose sight of that little voice of authenticity?

Since the start of his pontificate, Pope Francis has picked up the spiritual megaphone of his last two predecessors when he says we must return to the essentials of sharing the cause of our joy, to authenticity, to a love that spills over and is not afraid to get dirty. We must climb out of gilded towers of self-preservation, of security, and even out of our churches and stop trying to convert people by tools of mass alienation such as the repeated drone of slogans, and especially theological slogans. We must bring life, Christ’s life to the people. Engage. Dialogue. Share. Love. And be willing to suffer.

The poor man is constantly again being attacked by Catholics for his interviews. They can’t seem to translate him. They don’t get his messy approach.

I think the sheer messiness is a grace. It’s getting people to talk about and examine things they haven’t in a long time. But it wouldn’t be possible without Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI before him.

Just a thought.

Nota Bene

This little miracle is due to old recording techniques on cylinders beginning in 1877, with the discoveries of Thomas Edison. These cylinders are the ancestors of the record. First covered with tin foil, they would be covered 10 years later with wax, like our recording. They measured about 4 inches long, 21/4 in diameter, for a duration of 2 to 3 minutes.

Thanks to an electromagnet, an electric signal from a microphone activated a recording attachment that engraved the cylinder covered with wax. When we listen, the cylinder turning can be heard (not very pleasant) and it’s necessary to turn up the volume in order to hear well. Jeanne sang the text below in French and used the score that Thérèse did to compose her poem: La rose-mousse.
At the end of this short song, Francis shouts:”Bravo bravo bravo ma petite femme! [my little wife] c’est très bien [very good], bravo, bis bis! [encore]” And Jeanne goes on with a variant of the kindergarten song: Pipo quand il était militaire.


worshipping God



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