Cindy directs us to a fascinating article in the NY Times about writing and reading. I hadn’t given it a great deal of thought before now, but for most of human history, writing wasn’t done with fingers punching letters on a keyboard. Wordsworth composed a 149-line poem in his head on a drive one afternoon and dictated it when he arrived. Augustine once remarked with surprise that Bishop Ambrose could read without moving his tongue, because silent reading is a very recent phenomenon. Reading and writing were both "out loud" activities.
The author of the article (Richard Powers) presents the riveting suggestion that our qwerty keyboards have in fact truncated our ability to think in entire paragraphs like our forebears. He wrote the entire article using speech-recognition software. I wrote this entire blog post with my fingers, in complete silence (except for "clickety-clack" and ever-so-faint hum of my computer fan). Makes me want to try speech-recognition software again, speaking words out into the air like the poets and orators of old! Or maybe like a guy in his slippers talking to his computer.
But the article also made me think about the written word and the spoken word, too. Is it enough to read our Bibles silently and "understand" the content? Or is there really something to the spoken Word of God? Is private Bible study enough, or do we need the public reading of Scripture? Can poetry be fully digested if it is merely looked at as opposed to spoken? Is silent prayer just as good as spoken prayer? Or is there something to a word being spoken that creates a new dynamic in an atmosphere or relationship? Is it enough that my wife "understands" that I love her, or do I need to speak the words to her every day? Perhaps the spoken words really do something, really perform actions…
If so, we shouldn’t balk at liturgical worship, or any other life ritual that doesn’t always make us feel warm fuzzies. If it’s important for me to actually say "I love you" to my wife, even when she knows I do, even when I’m not particularly warm and fuzzy, then perhaps i’s important for us to actually say the Lord’s Prayer together as a community of faith, even when it doesn’t "feel" real. Perhaps it’s important for us to speak the words of Scripture to one another in our gatherings, even if we’re tired and cranky and didn’t like that last song. Maybe saying it is important even when we’re not "feeling" it on the inside. Perhaps saying stuff actually does stuff. And maybe doing stuff says stuff.
Yes there’s always the danger that our repeated words could become dead ritualism, but that’s no reason to stop saying the words altogether. Imagine if I told Deb that saying "I love you" was such a special thing, and I was worried that it might become a dead ritual if I said it too much, so I’m just going to reserve it for a once-a-year celebration where I’ll say the words. Ridiculous, of course. But that’s how many people think of liturgy, and of the normative spoken words of worship. Because while there certainly is the danger of dead ritualism, there’s the equal and opposite danger that we will only ever say things we "feel" on the inside, and that would a deep tragedy, for we would never be able to grow beyond our fickle emotions. Feelings are wonderful, but they were never meant to be in charge of things. That’s like giving a toddler the run of the house. No, we needs words that can guide and shape our feelings, and that’s where prepared liturgy helps us so much. The normative spoken words of worship challenge us and prophesy to us, and as we speak them out loud day by day, week by week, year by year, we are formed into the Body of Christ and liberated from only saying what we "feel", and that is a deliverance worth waiting for!