Monday, 20 January 2020

Choosing Words

Ezekiel Chapter Two

He said to me “O mortal stand up on your feet and I will speak to you and I heard the Lord speaking to me.”
“You shall say to them. Thus says the Lord God.
Whether they hear or refuse to hear do not be afraid of their words But you mortal hear what I say to you”.
And actually there are a few more says and hears and speaks in this short passage before the dramatic conclusion where Ezekiel in his vision eats the scroll.

Language is important - the words we choose are rarely neutral. Their accidental misuse or deliberate bias causes me to rant at the wireless and television - take this from Look East this week: “The chief executive of the Norfolk and Suffolk healthcare trust  admits there is more work to do.” You see how loaded that is, they admit and immediately we hear suggestions of guilt, culpability, something confessional, but it need to have been so: I hope the chief executive does think there is work to do, otherwise why are they there? Surely the chief executive SAID there is work to do.

But I am  not alone in ranting about language, this week in a  Church Times piece a contributor was if not ranting then at least lamenting the falling away of the general familiarity with Shakespeare, the Bible or the Book of Common Prayer. The imagery of these books through their language once so familiar to the English could be used even in conversation to make a point powerfully, dipping into allusions that were ingrained in all. Now I am not sure that they are entirely right about that for we all have our favourites: 

From Shakespeare, for example I am likely to respond to an injury with Mercutio’s line “Marry tis not so wide as a barn door but twill suffice”
Or on my way to bed from the Bible with “Sufficient unto the day the evil thereof”
And of course there are many beautiful phrases from the Book of Common Prayer:
“We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.”

Phrases beautifully constructed where their authors have laboured over the choice of every word - think of the Eucharistic prayer that Cranmer created where his object was to be poetic, prayerful, profound, precise and to express protestantism.
So this sermon was moving towards being an empathic if curmudgeonly agreement with  the CHurch Times BUT this week I went to Wells Primary school to sit on a lesson planning meeting with six English teachers (by which I intend teachers of English) and I emerged excited and buoyed up by Beowulf.

Yes one of the plans was to rediscover this oldest of the freat long poems in English, possibly completed in the eighth century. They were not going to use the Olde English but two modern versions remodelled for the young by Michael Murpogo and our own Kevin Crossley-Holland. These versions are individual, they begin the story in a different setting yet as you would expect from these and especially in reconnecting with a classic each word is chosen with care, for its nuance and all the richness of its meaning.

It seems to me that this present generation is slightly sidetracked by speed of response - an immediate tweet, a quick e-mail, a phone call a vox pop to the interviewer and we have lost the art of taking just a little longer to pace the right word.

But firstly I am encouraged that the next with a return to literature and perhaps a boredom with the rapid will be better equipped and secondly I think of God preparing Ezekiel to go to the house of Israel - God gave him the nourishment of a whole scroll to inform the things he wold say. Let us continue to read the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer (and Shakespeare) so we may imbibe the language and make it our reflex to choose carefully and powerfully.


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