Thursday, 26 July 2012

It's only words

It's been a while since I posted.  Eugh yuck, I never wanted to say that.  I hate it when blog posts start like that.

The truth is, I've been busy with school.  No nine-week summer break for us English language teachers.  It's been a tough few weeks, with huge student numbers arriving for short courses, and a very thorough school inspection.

A typical introvert, when I am a bit overwhelmed by all the busy-ness, I tend to say less.  I find solace in the two things I enjoy that involve minimal listening, speaking, reading and writing: cooking and running.

I've experimented recently with a new sesame and brown rice salad, beetroot soup (mixed reviews) and a simple ricotta and spinach pasta sauce.  And I missed a few runs during the busiest week of all, but am back on my training schedule for the half marathon.

I've found recently that, whether in the pews or up front, it is a very soothing experience to have time set aside in the week for a church service.  And it reminded me of when I first came to Christ Church, much in need of some R&R time, and found it in a surprising place - a very surprising place for me - in the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer.

I was not brought up to value written prayer.  It seemed such an oxymoron - written prayers?  Written prayers?

Now, I will never earn a crust with my looks or my athletic prowess.  Words are my tool.

When I came to Christ Church three years ago, as I say, I was looking for some rest.  I found myself empty of words, too tired to produce them, and too uninspired to look for them.

But someone else gave me the words to say, in the form of the prayer book.  And if I couldn't muster the will to say them, others did and it carried me along.

As the weeks passed, I waited for the boredom to set in - after all, why would anyone bother coming to church if they knew in advance half the words that would be uttered?  But I haven't got bored yet.  Probably because the words are really, really good.  Nobody says 'I love you' expecting the reply, 'Say something else, you say that same thing every day!'  Some words bear repetition.

Words can create, and transform, and shape. For good, but also for ill. And it's so easy to vomit them. They can be mass-produced and cheap, just as they can be charismatic, spontaneous yet inspired.

Our society values certain things: authenticity is one, a very good one.  Others include entertainment value, efficiency, and hyperpersonal choice.  Hmm.  Good or bad, good or bad ... probably 'open to abuse and probably unhelpful if applied uncritically'.

The BCP is not very strong on hyper-personal choice, because rubrics are reasonably fixed, although there is more flexibility built in than many of us realize.  Efficiency?  Hem.  And entertainment value?!  In a world that values entertainment, efficiency and extremely it-must-absolutely-fit-me-and-my-personal-preferences choice - (pause for breath) - you could almost say the prayer book is subversive!

But the prayer book is very valuable in that maverick leaders can only move so much within the structures.  The book ensures balance over personality.  Wise people with many years of personal and pastoral experience have reflected deeply to put together the rubrics and collect the texts.  They have taken great steps to ensure that we neither go down the route of worm theology ('I'm such a terrible, sinful disappointment to God, why did he ever make me?) nor the humanistic self-help pseudo-gospel ('10 Biblical steps to a better, smarter, fitter, new you in your marriage with lots of money').

Without the structures and guidelines of liturgy, it's so easy for words to bubble up and be out there, with little critical or theological sifting, doing what words do - creating, shaping, transforming.  Without liturgy, my feelings that day can dominate my theology.  Without liturgy, my misinformed ideas and agendas can slither into my prayers.  Without liturgy, we can do all the talking and very little listening to the Holy Spirit.  Our churches can easily be corrupted by some very un-christian values and assumptions. 

Ever heard phrases like 'Let's do business with God'?  I find that one particularly unhelpful.  I'd do better to let Him do the talking, and listen to His ideas.  I'd find myself in a weak negotiating position doing business with the Almighty.  The BCP understands that listening is as important as saying lots of words.

I've been quiet, blog-wise and other-wise, because I feel like it.  I've been too tired to be crafting words.  But maybe I could take advice from the proverb below, and let listening and more considered speech spill over into the next few months too ...

“The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool. When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth. The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense.” (Proverbs 10:18-21, ESV).

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