On the Utter Irrelevance of the Question

***WARNING*** THIS IS AN UNSCHEDULED RANT

A “rant” is a warm bit of prose written in the style of an Elizabethan pamphleteer, in color, with salt, and at least a dash of hot pepper. A rant is a full-throated expression of hearty dismay. Watched carefully, a rant can occur with a rare-jewel-of-Christian-contentment smile on the face, and not break any of the Ten Commandments, or cause any of the fruit of the Spirit to rot in the bowl. But it has to be well monitored — you can’t be seeing red. Light pink at the most. At the same time, the actual point is to come flying off the top ropes. The tactical point is to uncork. This is that but Just a short one. Hold on. Let me shake it first and get it good and fizzy.

“Mary Did You Know?” is one of the best Advent/Christmas songs of the last thirty years. Ignorant people should stop mocking it.

The only people confused by the song are those who know absolutely nothing of how poetry (or the rest of language) works. Those who complain are more solution than problem. They don’t understand the potency of rhetorical devices and so their own attempts at art die cruel deaths by their own hands; suicide by dull instrument.

When Moses composed his famous song he asked, “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?” Only a fool would think he was asking for a list by which he could weigh his options.

When Deborah the Judge wrote her historical tune she too asked a rhetorical question in the eighth verse of the fifth chapter, “When new gods were chosen, then war was in the gates. Was shield or spear to be seen among forty thousand in Israel?” No one can reasonable assume that she was asking; she was TELLING.

David, that sweet singer of Israel, may have been the worst. Over and over again he asked questions to which he (and everyone else) already knew the answer. “Who is this king of Glory?” “Who is a god like our God?” “Will God cast off his people?” The aim of the question was meant to stir zeal and enthusiasm; many of the Psalms were appropriately “fight songs.” The questions were rallying cries, not queries for new information. THE QUESTIONS WERE THE ANSWERS.

I’ll stop here but suffice it to say that virtually every songster in the entire Bible asked rhetorical questions for edification and emphasis. The same can be said for the great hymn writers through the history of the Church, (“And Can it Be?” “What wondrous Love is This?” “What Child is This?”).

Is it any wonder that modern writers can hardly produce usable, sustainable art, despite the capes and berets their mom’s made them? Don’t bother answering. It’s rhetorical. We all know the answer.

 

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you. The effect of this song has consistently been to focus my heart on how remarkable was the incarnation. What better vehicle than, as you said, rhetorical questions addressed to Mary? “Did you know that when you kiss your little baby you kiss the face of God?” That stops me every time. Causes me to praise and worship my great God. I was taken aback a few weeks ago when I read the remark “Yes, Mark Lowery, Mary knew.” Condescending, disrespectful attempt at theological one-upmanship.

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