Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Words that burn like fire

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OSCO, Commentary | Published November 3, 2016

“I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing!”

Luke 12:49

I have long been a fan of Bob Dylan and his music and have followed his career for as long as I can remember. His being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature delighted many and probably disgruntled just as many. His music has more often than not triggered volleys of conflicting opinions. And his voice—a friend of mine thinks Dylan’s voice is the worst he has ever heard. Well, all I could say in response to him was that I could never imagine Perry Como pulling off “Like a Rolling Stone.”

I remember reading somewhere about the early musical influences of Dylan. He would lie in bed at night in Hibbing, Minnesota, and listen to country and folk music that was riding the radio waves from Nashville, a place that must have seemed so far away and somewhat magical to him. He listened and absorbed.

He read Woody Guthrie’s “Bound for Glory” and the poetry of Dylan Thomas—and from these words he aligned himself with the troubadour of the downtrodden and the power of the poetic image. He was given a guitar by his parents. And he had an ear for listening for good tunes and then writing a few of his own. And he was off—he moved with the music and is still moving. His next stop will be Oslo, hopefully, to receive the Nobel Prize.

David Budbill, the recently deceased poet who was known for his poetry inspired by his sensitivity to the small and seemingly insignificant that he observed in his small Vermont town, was once asked in an interview about the sources of his inspiration. He said, “It comes from my imagination, from the voices I hear, from somewhere. In short, I do not know where it comes from and I don’t care.”

But others who were moved by his words did care, following their own inspiration to seek the source of beauty.

Dylan’s creative fire was fanned through the magic of late night radio. Budbill was driven to give poetic form to the everydayness of a barking dog, simple pleasures, ordinary people. His poetry delighted some of the locals of the town about which he wrote and rattled others. Seems that inspiration, when put to words or music or any mode of human expression, is going to cause division.

The words of Jesus from Luke’s Gospel about fire and, in the lines that followed, causing division between people, must have upset those who heard the words coming from the mouth of Jesus, a man who so often spoke of the goodness of peace and love. Yet here he is telling his followers that his message will cause deep divisions among people, even to the point of causing severe lines of demarcation in families.

We as Christians believe that we know the source of our inspiration, our hopes, our longings for peace and genuine love among the peoples of the earth. It is a fire that is still burning, inspiring the likes of poets like Dylan and Budbill. And it will always burn, repelling some but attracting others who are mesmerized by it and want to take from it its warmth, its light, and, in some cases, words and music.

Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at