The other day I came across a traditional Christian prayer from the Divine Office. The prayer is known as Prime from the hour of day when it was recited (6:00 am). The prayer implores God “to teach us the way of peace” and “to close our eyes against the throng of earth’s absorbing vanities.” It continues, “May our hearts be pure within, no cherished madness vex the soul…” The madness is cherished, which means it is more than a passing emotion. It is something we hang on to, hold dear, and project to the world. Notice that it has become our cherished madness even though it vexes our souls.
I have been thinking about this prayer a lot. It reminds me of the work I have been doing on the relationship between business and ideology, especially with high tech firms and their progressive social agendas. After all, an ideology can be a cherished madness. Jordan Peterson has even described ideologues as “possessed.” But there’s another reason cherished madness has been on my mind.
Over the holidays, I had a conversation with a friend, someone I see only once or twice a year. So, when we meet we try to make up for lost time. This is a person whom I respect and who, generally, has very wise things to say on all kinds of subjects ranging from parenting and politics to marketing and marriage. Like me, she has children and grandchildren.
Unfortunately, things went sideways toward the end of my visit. When I confided something personal to her about my family, she paused, sat back, and stared at me with a gleam in her eyes. In all the years of our friendship, I have never seen that gleam before. It was as if something had gotten into her–literally. Then she went on to tell me something she had been holding back for years but decided now was the time to reveal it, believing it to be helpful. But not only was it not helpful, it was so far off the mark that it caught me off guard, which does not happen very often.
I composed myself, thought seriously about what she said, and then rejected it. I explained my reasons, but she was having none of it. She must have thought I was being defensive. Eventually, I started doubting myself, especially after she had one more slight to sling as I drove away from her house. She delivered it with the same gleam in her eyes. On the road, I found myself asking what had happened. Was this a truth about my family that I needed to face and accept, or was my friend delusional? To put it another way, which one of us suffered from a cherished madness?
I don’t want to be surrounded by yes men and women. I want to discern, debate, and seek the truth together. I believe in the truth, not a web of mini-truths and partial realities. So, we couldn’t both be right. But I believed then and believe now that she was wrong. Regardless, I still wonder what brought her to the conclusions she reached about my family. And what made her think of me that way?
My study of ideology has led me to Francis Bacon (1561-1626), the English philosopher who developed the scientific method. He said that, “The human understanding resembles not a dry light, but admits a tincture of the will and passions, which generate their own system accordingly, for man always believes more readily that which he prefers.”
My friend believed what she wanted to believe. How or why I do not know. Maybe she doesn’t know, either. But is it my place to tell her, to convince her otherwise? And what of my own cherished madness? If she had read the prayer or studied Bacon, she might be writing this blog post instead of me.
So, I’ve decided to let it go. What can I do? Bring it up next year? But something good has come out of the experience. It has forced me to think about discovering my own cherished madness. It might be good to give up for Lent. If not the madness exactly, then for sure the cherishing.
Glutton for punishment? Go to Robert Brancatelli. Images by Aarón Blanco Tejedor (Unsplash), Peter Forster (Unsplash). Note to self: The best thing I can say about Super Bowl LIII is that Opening Day is March 28. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance.