life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"not by prose alone"....

I ran across this snippet this morning in a book called Alternative Worship by two guys in the UK who are leaders of the emergent church there. The title of the chapter (the book is really a resource of worship rituals, liturgies, readings, stations, etc) is the title of this post: Not by Prose Alone. And it adds, I think, to the conversation that Marshall and I have been having regarding poetry and worship. (You might want to read our as yet incomplete discussion by referring to the comments to the post immediately preceding this one.)

Theology is sometimes called "Godtalk." Worship embodies styles and habits of talking about and to God. The nature of this speech or the tone of language is vitally important. Some critics of church tradition argue that our capacity for speech has been vastly reduced in the modern era. The poet Les Murray contrasts the terms "narrowspeak" and "wholespeak" to illustrate his thinking on ways of talking about God. He suggests that in recent times (modernity) Godtalk has been severely reduced to narrowspeak, the voice of reason--rational and didactic ways of talking, the discourse of prose. Narrowspeak has to "make sense," be explainable, and be easily understood by everyone. It is communication reduced to just words, words, and more words.

Wholespeak in contrast is a poetic discourse, mystical speech, a language which is "truly dreamed." This is very similar to Walter Brueggemann's appeal to the church to rediscover poetry rather than living by prose alone. Both Murray and Brueggemann argue that the church needs to rediscover wholespeak or poetry, rather than feeling obliged to adopt the language of modernity. We might call this the re-enchantment or re-mythologization of speech, where speech reflects the Christian imagination, recognizing the importance of symbols, images, "myths," and metaphors as well as sharing space and time with music and the visual arts. Truth can be carried or opened up just as effectively (or maybe better) by this kind of language.

What do you think?

(Not to detract from the main point of this post as expressed by the authors above, but I would add that the modern church is much more dependent on its poetic imagination "underpinnings" from the past than it knows or would dare admit. I would suggest that the same is true of modern science, and that both the western religious and scientific worlds are just beginning to wake up to the fact that the emperor has no clothes. That doesn't cause the emperor to have no value or validity in either realm. It just leaves her/him very cold and exposed. But let's leave that for another discussion.)

Grace and peace,



Blogger Marshall said...

Hi, Owen,

You leave me mindful of two things that, for me, tie spirituality to poetics. The first is an observation by scholar Jakob Korg, that poetry is an attempt to use words to express what words cannot express. The second is the observation that has arisen in many wisdom traditions (including Christianity) that God can be described only negatively or via paradox. God is "neti, neti" - not this, not that...

1:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice meeting you at the sandwich shop, Owen. In regards to your final comment, there are more connections between science and religion than people will admit. UCLA historian Joyce Appleby was hot on the trail in her work Telling the Truth About History that incorporates the thoughts of three historians.


I think modernity simply provides our viewpoint to the past. If we tried to live or write in the past we would phase ourselves out of the societies that we need to be a part of and understand. Even the Puritans went through their Declension.

Writing poetry, in my opinion, should plainly and simply come from the heart of exploring. Now, exploring the mystical side of Christianity... such abstracts could lead to new revelations in thought for sure.

But then where would those thoughts lead people?

Great topic.

1:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry about the name in the middle of the comment... was having trouble logging in.

Nick :)

1:55 PM  

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