This past Sunday was what is known in the Christian church as “Christ the King” Sunday. It’s the final Sunday in the Christian liturgical year and the culmination of all our readings and understanding.
As I read the words of the scripture passages, I was flooded with the realization that we can barely understand each other when looking into one another’s eyes and working diligently to share who we are and what it is we need and want. How much more challenging it is to believe that we have any idea what was meant by those who first wrote down the words that led to our twenty-first century translations. It is ludicrous for us to make any assertions about scripture at all.
And so the theme for the week turned to the challenges of being understood. I enjoyed the article by Shaham Farooq, On the Inadequacies of Language on the Medium platform. If you take a read, you may see my comments below. I was honoured that the took the time to respond. I believe Shaham has a believer’s perspective but that doesn’t get in the way of exploring timeless issues that are as important today as they have been for millennia, with or without religious beliefs.
The very first line in Shaham’s article captivated me: “Maybe one of the most tragic love stories is between language and the need for meaningful communication.” How incredibly and painfully true. Language is a crude encryption for our longings, dreams, devastations, and hopes. Even wrapped in the most appropriate garments of transmission – voice, facial cues, body language – we so often fall short. How deluded we are if we assume another perfectly able to decrypt our messages. How enormously deluded we are if we think we can decrypt what those who wrote the prose and poetry of the Bible and other religious texts were striving to communicate. We are novices, all, when it comes to understanding.
Below the picture of Revelation 17:4 from the 4th century document, Codex Vaticanus, is my focused moment for the week.*
These are wise and powerful words.
They’ve stirred the hearts of generations,
filled them with courage, fortitude, resolve.
Inscribed on ancient tablets, scrolls,
they yet find their way
to kitchen and bedside tables,
the podiums of scholars,
the shrines of faith.
How shall we read them?
Do we pluck and parse them
one by one?
Or pour them out,
fastened one to the other,
and seek for understanding
through the in-betweens,
the silent spaces never filled?
We own this legacy of words,
handed to us
generation after generation
though we may say we know them,
we cannot say we understand
for locked in any fine construal,
is the heart that dreamt
a world unseen
and only these mere words
to make it known.
* If you look closely, you’ll see that this photograph of the Codex Vaticanus is “owned” by the Vatican and that I am infringing copyright by posting it here. It concerns me that such texts are not available for public use so I guess you could call this civil disobedience of a sort.