Shakespeare does it again! Just when I’m taking comfort, so luxuriously ensconced in my humility, he punctures my bubble:
When love begins to sicken and decay,
It useth an enforcèd ceremony.
There are no tricks in plain and simple faith.
But hollow men, like horses hot at hand,
Make gallant show and promise of their mettle.
Ever caught yourself being full of yourself? Ever caught yourself being pious and righteous? Ever caught yourself doing so “like horses hot at hand”? What an incredible image this is. I can see the huge horses, snorting and pawing the air, announcing, “Hey, everyone! I’m here. Look at me.”
Now in fairness to myself, I am not as guilty of this as in my youth but it still happens. Then “mindfulness” will visit me in (spite of myself), and the sting of conscience will prick me. Then, suddenly humbled by self-awareness, I will utter the famous word of Texas Governor Rick Perry, “Oops!” For I have been caught looking foolishly full of myself.
“Hollow men” wear their faith for show. In another play, Shakespeare said of them, “With devotions visage and pious action, they do sugar o’er the devil himself.” They often mean well and are often only of guilty of immaturity. But they do great harm. I think the televangelists are a good example of this “horses hot at hand” type of faith. These fellows are usually performance artists and prey on an unlearned audience, one that lacks the gift of a discriminating ear.
To use still another notion from Shakespeare, these “hollow men” have hearts that are “bronzed over” by “damned custom” so that it is “proof and bulwark against sense.” Yes, the heart has been replaced by “damn custom” or these aforementioned cognitions, the pious jargon, so that the heart itself is “proof and bulwark” against “sense” or “feeling.” Thus the heart is empty of feeling and the person living merely in the grasp of the conceptual is a “hollow man” and must make “gallant show and promise of their mettle.”
For, the “plain and simple faith” that Jesus spoke of is not available to them, the faith that Jesus had in mind when he spoke of the need of coming to him with the faith of little children. I now work often with little children and their sweet little hearts are just overflowing with faith—faith in mommy and daddy, faith in their teachers, faith in their budding notions of “god”, faith in the world they are exploring, and even faith in an old substitute teacher like me! It is beautiful to see their simple trust. This is the “simple faith” that Shakespeare had in mind and the faith that Jesus calls us to.
But, oh, it is so much easier to just rely on what we are accustomed to, those “well worth words and ready phrases that build comfortable walls against the wilderness,” even if they are the “Christian” variety!