THE WONDER OF WORDS by Priest Marin Mihalache

antique-quill-and-ink● Poetic inspiration has its origins in the archetypal images hidden in the subtle sensibility of the inner, spiritual, subconscious, and unconscious depths, in the surreptitious chambers of the heart, in the streams of awakened consciousness, where the divine encounters the human. Without emotional intelligence, imagination, and aesthetic sensibility, there would be neither poetry, nor religion, nor saints or mystics endowed spiritually with the gift to understand and bear witness to the perplexity of that meta-reality, the reality beyond reality—to the existence of that dream world and those celestial visions of which the rational mind is neither aware nor cognizant. When mankind can no longer dream and no longer create authentic poetry, when it will only know how to calculate and consume, that radiant glory of the divine image imprinted from the beginning inside the ground of being and in the depths of man’s heart will collapse under its own shadow, under the penumbra of man’s true identity, and man will no longer be human.

● Inspiration and the unbridled flame of poetic creativity can rise to the apex of a sublime aesthetic beyond the horizons of the world’s contingency. A poetic mind can also wander vainly through the obscure and dark pathways of a jungle of dreams and bewildering imagination. But we all must first wander through the mythopoetic labyrinth in search of the Minotaur hidden within us, through the desert of loneliness and transcendental despair, through the darkness of the unseen reality and dream, so that we can then come to the light by seeing what we actually sought, and which may be hidden within the depths of our unconscious mind long before we are born in this wonderful world.

● It is true that, envisioned only through a pragmatic and utilitarian spectrum and perspective, poetry could be just a “snow mill” set in motion by the gusts of emotions, illusions, or dreams. However, if understood phenomenally, spiritually, and aesthetically, through invisible tusks of time that grind the opaque fiber of material reality and transcend the limits of the visible world, poetry can apprehend, reveal, and embody the essence of beautiful truth and true beauty, even in and through the charm, fascination, or exposure of a simple inspired poetical verse, image, or metaphor. Under its creative and cognitive aspect, poetry appears to us as a state of grace, of inchoate preconceptions and intuitions, emotions of the mind and reasons of the heart—a state of being which, mystically distilled in the alembic of the alchemy of words, transforms and transfigures the material forms back into poetic images, perennial visions and archetypes back into the divine matrix of the primeval world created in the image of the Word.

● Moments of poetic creativity are rare and usually not repeatable in their uniqueness. They may be imitated, explained, imagined, but never reconstituted or recreated in their originality. They are like waves of ineffable feelings and eloquence sheltered under the veil of the individual and collective memory of mankind, suddenly enthused by an invisible daemon. For this reason, poetic states of mind cannot be properly articulated with sufficient adequacy by man’s words. Who can describe in human words, even of the most inspired poetry, the taste of an exotic fruit? Who can express in words the beauty of a white lily, that veil of a celestial bride? Even so, spiritual experiences and authentic poetic states cannot be uttered or expressed through mere human words. But to make himself understood, to communicate experiences and moods, transcendental visions, another concealed face of the world and reality, the poet borrows words from the culture in which he happens to be born and uses them like parallel mirrors to reflect and project poetical images, pale forms of the metaphysical and now materialized reality of the original, germinal idea.

● Words have creative, germinating power. They are living seeds which, under favorable conditions, sprout, bloom, and bring forth fruit. Words are incarnate ideas, the spirit expressing itself through emotions and feelings, states of being and mind that come alive in the heart of the poet. Through the seed of words, with each poem a new world is created after the patterns of a fluent but peculiar order of syntax, in a choice of expressions and metaphors, as much as possible and desirably coherent, imbued with profound, ineffable meaning, yet not too hermetic, creating a new gift of beauty brought to us by the poet from far away, from his enchanted world.

● Words are subliminal messengers. They have an interactive and suggestive power of conviction, and can change the life, will, and faith of those who listen to or read them. In some sacred languages, each word, even every syllable, once represented a world in itself, meaningful and full of sense and significance. The poetic language has lost, however, its sacred power. The words are now mostly tools of communication, signs of orientation in time and space. But when a transcendental bridge between words and the innate sacredness is eventually restored, when in a certain state of grace, light comes out of darkness, when words are brought together by a poetic logic like beads on a thread, then one can create sensible and powerful ideas that can change the world from within, make it keener and more meaningful.

● By the same token, but on the reverse, through the misuse and abuse of words, the evil spirits of the ugly and of untruth can subvert the minds and hearts of man and of the world. Hence, there is need of a new spirit of discrimination to empower man to distinguish between language that conveys truth and beauty or just deceiving appearances. The demonic spirits are usually robed in mantles of light. Their spirit blends the clear and the gloomy, lies with truth, good with evil, the beauty with the ugliness. Without a system of meaningful, aesthetical values and without the spirit of discernment, a reversal of values occurs, so that ultimately the triptych of lies, evil, and ugliness replaces in today’s cultures the traditional triptych of truth, good, and beauty.

● The enigmatic joy, the heavenly blessing of any mortal, faithful, skeptical, or apostate one, is to approach the throne of beauty and divine glory, to have that mystical experience, transfigurative, poetic intuition and inspiration beyond any understanding. Without a touch of poetry, life is just arduous travail, frustration, a rush after wind. For those who are not born with the gift of creativity and poetical imagination, that is, who are not poets by heart and mind, by vocation or inspiration, God has blessed and has sent some servants with the gift of writing poetry, filled with grace and inspiration, with skills and ability to choose the most suitable words to express and bestow upon the hearts of others specks of truth and beauty, as much as human beings are capable of perceiving and conceiving; to reveal glimpses of that ineffable joy, of the divine glory, of a preconceptual intuition of what God has revealed and the human mind has apprehended as being the dominions of heaven or hell.

● The love of truth, the loving reason expressed by means of aesthetic expression, is in itself an act of creation that transforms and recreates man inwardly. Through poetic creation the material universe becomes for a moment transparent and proof of the existence of an invisible spiritual realm, a form of its realization. For as holy icons induce in the mind and perception of the believer the mystical presence of true grace, so also authentic poetry, enthused by the spirit of truth and beauty, enables creators and lovers of beauty to feel and perceive for a moment the wonder of the sacred presence, of the reality of holiness revealed by the inspired word as image, through inspired words as miracle-working icons.

Father Marin Mihalache holds a law degree from the University of Bucharest, an MDiv and MTh from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, and an LLM from the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. He is a priest of the Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of the Orthodox Church in America. His MDiv thesis (1983), written under the supervision of Father Alexander Schmemann, is entitled “On the Christian Understanding of Poetry.” His poetry and articles appear in the trilingual Alternativa/The Alternative/L’Alternatif and the Romanian Crestin Ortodox. Orthodoxy in Dialogue published a sample of his spiritual poetry and Father Schmemann’s endorsement here.

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