EVENSONG IN OXFORD ON ST. CECILIA’S DAY
“My soul doth magnify the Lord,” we sing,
And offer back, in music’s common voice,
The melody He made; the gift we bring
Is wholly His—and so we dare rejoice
With Mary’s words, entrusting her with all
Our hopes and fears, to prism them to praise
Before her Son, her Lord and ours. We call
On her, with nothing of our own, to pray;
And then, still prisoned in our lonely selves,
We hear the piercing note of joy that calls
Us home, with all the saints, to live, and dwell . . .
And so we sing, and let the silence fall,
To be redeemed. On these our broken words,
Miserable and weak, have mercy, Lord.
A phone call from my iPhone in the United States to a coworker in India is a marvel of technical accomplishment. I might be sitting by the lake in a remote part of rural Texas, but the signal zips through digital and analog circuitry across high speed lines, through perhaps hundreds of routers, into space and back – all in a few seconds. When she answers the call in Hindi however, though we have certainly accomplished connectivity, no communication has occurred.
Consider this: if I play a game of Monopoly with a friend, and I land on ‘Go to Jail,’ I don’t have to actually go to jail. If we are playing a war-themed video game and I get shot, nobody has to take me to the emergency room. The games use words that point to real-life experiences, but without the substance of them; the players try to win, and may indeed get very emotional in the process, but fundamentally they know it’s a game. If ‘God’ and ‘faith’ and all the other concepts that we want to talk about with skeptics are just words to them, such that our argument is just an intellectual game—well, then we will get exactly nowhere, and we will waste a lot of time talking past each other.
The dangers of using religious language without attention to meaning for the listener are not limited to interactions with skeptics; a disjunction of meaning can (and often does) occur in preaching and catechesis within the Church as well. For instance, a young person raised in the Church may have a fuzzy idea of sin as meaning ‘hurting other people,’ rather than as something objectively wrong in itself that harms one’s relationship with God and injures one’s soul. This young person is thus no hypocrite in agreeing with his parents that sin is wrong, while sleeping with his girlfriend. After all, they’re consenting adults, so nobody is getting hurt. . .and if nobody is getting hurt, there’s no sin! Against this backdrop, arguments about the immorality of his behavior are likely to be met with incomprehension, or result in a conviction that the Church’s teachings are arbitrary and can safely be ignored. The disagreement about meaning can hide beneath the surface, distorting the conversation without the participants realizing it.
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John 1: 1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
Meet The Author
Dr Holly Ordway is Professor of English and faculty in the M.A. in Apologetics at Houston Baptist University; she holds a PhD in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
She is the author of Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith (Emmaus Road, 2017) and Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms (Ignatius, 2014), and she has contributed chapters to C.S. Lewis at Poets’ Corner (edited by Michael Ward and Peter S. Williams), C.S. Lewis’s List: The Ten Books that Influenced Him Most (edited by David Werther) among other volumes; she is also a published poet, with poems in Word in the Wilderness and Love, Remember (edited by Malcolm Guite).
Her academic work focuses on the writings of the Inklings, especially C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Her current book project is Tolkien’s Modern Sources: Middle-earth Beyond the Middle Ages (forthcoming from Kent State University Press, 2019).
She lives in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and travels regularly to speak on Tolkien, Lewis, and imaginative apologetics.
Photo of Holly Ordway by Lancia E Smith