Words, Words, Words!

Prayer, as T.S.Eliot reminds us in The Four Quartets, ‘is more than an order of words, the conscious occupation of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying’. In churches and synagogues across the land we seem to be bombarded with a barrage of information, admonitions, readings, prayers, sermons. The readings are often too fast, and few clergy or rabbis are trained in the use of the voice or the microphone.

How to make space for the heart and the spirit? How to make space, as Quakers do, for silence? To what extent do the rituals and liturgy of organised religion reflect an interior reality?

The great scholar, P.D.Mehta, in his book The Heart of Religion, wrote, ’In the hands of the great ceremonialists, these rituals produced profound psychological effects. Trained to meditate, the attention of the skilled celebrant was wholly concentrated on the psycho-spiritual significance of the ritual.’

And so it is not surprising that so many turn away from our churches and synagogues. It is not that we do not require words – it is that words require space.  

One thought on “Words, Words, Words!”

  1. The way of my work, James – as i wrote to you many years ago and you made sense of it for me. Always grateful for that perspective, the one you write here. I had gone on a study leave from my diocese to become better in my priest work as I was starting out. But also with a question to understand: why most people claim to believe in God according to surveys, but most people were not in church, synagogue or mosque, etc. I thought that an important question for my work. It was a long extended and later experiential way I followed. A beautiful journey, taken in an important direction with reading your book on experimental theatre, a way that ended up for me at the Roy Hart Centre. There I found my best way into the question, especially with the work of Enrique Pardo. In it’s most basic, as you write above, it was to give something in the saying of a word such as ‘mercy.’ How can that be done in a manner that imparts the space between celebrant and congregant that is of spirit, soul and life? The bishops, my own and others I approached, didn’t get the importance of this. Didn’t see that this could be of any import for helping with the question of relevance of worship or membership in the church. I’m not sure they were correct considering the steep decline, in fact virtual disappearance of the church in the lives of people. For myself, I couldn’t go back to a work that didn’t see what you point out as the essence to the celebration of faith in worship. I’m not sad for myself. I have done my best to find a way to do that work outside the institution. Didn’t manage that well, but I’m grateful to the muse for leading me so, to what are your own insights, shared over many years, influencing so many like me no doubt, as you did here again in this post. Thank you. It was and is a supportive voice, in a largely empty chamber. The institution seemingly elsewhere.

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