“What’s madness but nobility of soul at odds with circumstance?” – Theodore Roethke, In a Dark Time
Few words seem so prescient for this day and age than the line above. Taken from Theodore Roethke’s bittersweet poem published in 1963, these words render the frustration and despair that seem to teem all around us with stark eloquence.
The timeless values we once held sacred have been deconstructed into abject oblivion. Worse, those values are now met with mockery and derision if not outright vilified. Even those few who pretend to stand for them in the public sphere seem only to do so for their own pathetic ends.
Madness and despair now seem the orders of the day. Certainly, the numbers bear out and are beyond comprehension. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men in the UK. It’s now the second leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 10 to 34 as well. Loneliness and addiction are veritable plagues all across our great nation and beyond.
It seems that all we are left with are pills and potions to remedy the dark aches that confound us. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), antidepressant use has increased by 400% since the 1990s. Amid the opioid epidemic, 130 Americans overdose and die each and every day.
That many are also deciding to turn on others cannot be a surprise to many of us considering how deep these crises of the spirit have festered for half a century. Again, a dark, insidious despair invades these pathetic souls that preside over whatever tired, fanatical rhetoric they may harbor or spew.
Sadder still, we are all distracted to the point of exhaustion. Our phones, our computers, our social media accounts deaden our senses never mind our critical faculties. A mindless drive toward ephemera blinds us. No wonder despair soon follows our restlessness and fatiguing boredom:
“In all the squalid zoo of vices, one is even uglier and fouler than the rest…I speak of Boredom which with ready tears dreams of hangings as it puffs its pipe.” – Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du mal
Collectively, there seems an unwillingness outside of hubris and platitudes to address the malignant, spiritual defeat that has affected us over so many decades. Even when not under constant attack, meaningful faith is either treated as an antiquated ornament to be placed on a shelf or presented with such obfuscation, it’s devoid of any real solace or value.
Treating God as some decoration to hang on the periphery of our lives is to build faith on quicksand. And faith and God presented in far too an abstract light provides, at best, only the cold comfort of an equation. Neither offers little by way of guidance or genuine hope in our perilous time of need.
Too often, we no longer even bear witness to the profoundly simple beauty that God Almighty surrounds us with each and every day. Regardless, it is evident as ever in a gentle breeze, a melody, your child’s laughter, the tinge of a sweet memory. Perhaps though, we have plummeted far deeper into the proverbial cave than Plato could have ever imagined. We must reorient our purpose toward God if we are to find our way out.