“words, words, words, I am so sick of words.” Eliza Dolittle, My Fair Lady.
Blogs are tricky things. We get to throw our opinions into cyberspace. Depending how busy people are, we may get away with them without comment. This doesn’t mean other readers don’t have an opinion. Commenting might take too long, or we don’t bother, once the moment passes. In today’s quick communication we would seldom go back to a blog to reply at leisure, after adequate reflection.
I did comment on a blog today AND got a reply! The blogger had suggested the following words (in reply I was told the list is not exclusive) should not be dropped from our preaching even though difficult to incorporate in 21st century communication. Here’s the list. Selah/Son of Man/Angel of the Lord / Exodus / Exile/Cross/Resurrection/Sin/Repentance/Judgement/ Satan/Hell/Lord.
Selah appears at the ends of stanzas in the Psalms. It can apparently be translated as ‘shut up!” or, more nicely, as ‘be still, fall silent’. Or perhaps simply, ‘pause’. A little more selah in our world would be a great benefit to many!
The Angel of the Lord is a motif, I believe, used to signify the message of God coming through. The awe in which God was held in the Hebrew Scriptures made it impossible for a mere human being to survive a direct conversation so the ‘angel of the Lord’ is the messenger. This messenger comforts and encourages Hagar on the two occasions she is cast out into the desert. In these ancient stories, richly embellished with symbolism, the angel of the Lord ‘fits’. Today we might say “Suddenly I knew what to do! or “I heard a voice saying, ‘Now see here, Susan…’” or “In a flash it came to me.”
I agree exodus – the path of liberation from oppression – and exile – the symbol of estrangement and alienation – are vital to helping describe our human condition at different times, allowing us identify what we need – to get out from under oppression, or to be brought home, reconciled with the divine and other humans.
We get into murkier territory with these words: Cross/ Resurrection/Sin/Repentance/Judgement/Satan/ Hell/. This septet of words carries a lot of baggage for people. After being blamed and shamed it’s no wonder people refuse to be told they are sinners needing repentance or they will judged only worthy of hell. Unfortunately, it can be true that refusing to acknowledge any sin at all, can have us falling into hubris where we are only good. Perhaps my friend’s list was an attempt to uncover this slippage and mourn it. Perhaps he is asking for us to do better naming the reality of the human condition – which is that we do not get it right all the time, even though we do get it gloriously right some of the time.
One consequence, however, of keeping this particular septet of words in our conversations and preaching is that we reinforce the over-emphasis on one mode of redemption or salvation (now there are two old words which can rattle the cage!). But, at some stage of our lives we all need redemption and at other times we need saving – often from ourselves! But the cross / resurrection /sin /forgiveness description of the transformation needed in human lives is only one way to describe our need. Above, I mentioned two others – ‘exodus’ reminds us it may be liberation from bondage of different sorts which we need. ‘Exile’ reminds us we may need to be reconciled. Other redemptive metaphors are also available – when we are blind, we need to regain sight; when we are hungry and thirsty we need food and drink; when we grope around in the darkness of the world and our own lives, we need a light. Only in the cross/resurrection/sin /forgiveness scenario have we done wrong. In all the other scenarios we may have been catapulted into those situations by circumstances beyond our control and so the redemptive help we need is different and specific to that life situation.
So what about some of these words being our go-to words? freedom/justice; light/darkness/colour; blindness/seeing/ insight; coming home/reconciliation/embrace/loving kindness.
All words come from the Word. When they spring from that source, they wing their way to the heart and do the work they were meant to do. As we say in church after the readings, scriptural and contemporary: For the Word in scripture, for the Word among us, for the Word within us, we give thanks