Friday, June 16, 2006

Speaking in new tongues

Why are the actual words we use important?

I throw this out there because of the recent U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ decision to change some wording in the mass. (Read about it on Even I know some of the words and phrases they’re opting to change, and I can count the times I’ve attended a mass on two hands.

So I ask again, why are the words important?

I certainly gain comfort from the words I have memorized, such as loved prayers, hymns, passages, etc. Their very familiarity connects me with all the other times the words have comforted me, and reciting or thinking about them puts me in the frame of mind to be comforted again.

But in some respects, that’s like comfort food—those mashed potatoes remind me of Thanksgiving, chocolate chip cookies bring me right to Christmas. The food in front of me that I’m eating in early summer doesn’t have those qualities—I put them there because of memory. So is that real, or not?

The trouble starts, I think, when I begin to believe I can’t experience that comfort *without* those exact words (or that food). When comfort is so linked to the form the ideas have taken that I never go beyond that to the substance of the ideas themselves. In other words, if I start to think that the words *are* the ideas. And they’re not.

I talk to many people about how to deepen their practice of spirituality, and it often boils down to taking a break from the words and communing instead exclusively with the ideas. This communion brings the ideas to you in an original way, not bounded by the words of others. You then make the ideas your own, and come up with your own ways of expressing and living them. You are transformed.

To me, that’s the test. Is the recitation or study of familiar words contributing to a transformation of thought, or is it allowing the person to just stay in the same groove without experiencing spiritual growth? The latter I’d actually say is detrimental to progress. The former is the only point to learning the words in the first place.

Whether one says, “and with your spirit,” or “and also with you,” after hearing “The Lord be with you,” to me makes no never mind in and of itself. There are many words that are frequently rote in my own tradition as well. But what is the meaning of the words, and is that meaning drawing me closer to the Divine? Do I listen with new ears every time, do I speak with a new tongue?

I’m going to try in my prayers today to gain the high ground of listening and speaking new ideas. Certainly they’ll build on the ideas I’ve already learned, but I’m committed to “making all things new.” In that way only can I be transformed.

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
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