December 1, 2013
Several of you indicated that my use of the word gravitas last week did not clarify the discussion but, contrary to my intent, simply deepened the hole I dug for myself by my initial reference to “intellectually empty calories.”
The problem has been further complicated by the word seriousness that I inserted in parenthesis following my use of gravitas.
While gravitas is sometimes defined as ‘high seriousness,’ it does not mean without humor. Neither does the word imply a grimly solemn tone nor a ponderous, heavy-handed earnest attitude on the writer’s part.
Gravitas means serious significance, a significance that lies inherent in the subject itself regardless of the writer’s approach.
This idea is made beautifully visual in the masks that Greek actors wore. In modern representation of these masks, the mask for comedy and the mask for tragedy while different and separate are often pictured together, physically overlapping at some point. This overlap reflects visually the way that in Greek theater subject matter with true gravitas appeared in both comedy and tragedy. The difference between the two categories was form, not content. Seriously significant subject matter appeared in both.
Aristophanes, for example, wrote some plays that are designated tragedy, and others that are labelled comedy. In the “comedies” that Aristophanes wrote his satire and wit did indeed evoke laughter but, at same time, his merciless caricature of human avarice, dishonesty and hypocrisy dealt with issues that in themselves carry serious significance for us all some two thousand years after the old Greek put pen to papyrus.
My goal in using Chicken Little’s story was to show that issues with serious significance (gravitas) that provide intellectual nourishment can appear in unlikely places, including children’s stories. In Chicken Little’s story, unexplained pain produced fear and a dangerously distorted idea of the world. The impact of pain is subject matter that carries serious significance for human beings despite the context in which it is presented here—a story of a rather self-satisfied chicken who was hit on the head by an acorn while hunting his breakfast bug.
Today we have survived the consumer hysteria of Black Friday and are celebrating the First Sunday in Advent.
As I lit the first candle in my coffee-table Advent wreath, I thought with deep gratitude of the gravitas carried in that small candle: without hope we perish. Now as winter comes and nights grow longer, I light my candle against the lengthening dark, and wait.
Only God can light our darkness. We hope. We wait.
Hoping with you and waiting for the Shalom that is to come.
See you next week.