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Learning To Speak God: Hearing St. Benedict With New Ears (Part 1)

First, our Liturgical Catechesis for this week: After the priest has prepared the water and wine – but before he washes his hands – he bows down and says something. What does he say?

“With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord. May our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God.” Further information can be found on the website.

Now on to some thoughts following the recent election…

A parishioner recently gave me an article from the New York Times. The article was entitled “It’s Getting Harder to Talk About God – The Decline in Our Spiritual Vocabulary Has Many Real-World Consequences.”  The author started by stating that, “More than 70 percent of Americans identify as Christian, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to them. An overwhelming majority of people say that they don’t feel comfortable speaking about faith, most of the time.“

Why is that? Doesn’t it seem that Americans currently have no problem talking – in fact screaming – about practically every topic? Actually, that is not the case. I’ve followed discussions on such topics as censorship, self-censorship, hate speech, micro-aggression, triggers, dog whistles, etc… It doesn’t seem to stop. The tone, rhetoric, and language surrounding the 2018 election – and other events leading up to it – we’re not exactly leading the citizenry to “The New Jerusalem”.

That’s a problem. What is the antidote? Injecting some grace and graciousness into the conversation might help. The challenge is that we don’t know how to do that. Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing–and How We Can Revive Them is the title of the book from Jonathan Merritt. He was the writer of that New York Times article. I downloaded a copy and have been working through it. Merritt continues with some data:

While many of our most visible leaders claim to be religious, their moral frameworks seem unrecognizable to masses of other believers. How do we speak about God in times like these when God is hard to spot? So last year, I enlisted the Barna Group, a social research firm focused on religion and public life, to conduct a survey of 1,000 American adults. This study revealed that most Americans — more than three-quarters, actually — do not often have spiritual or religious conversations.

More than one-fifth of respondents admit they have not had a spiritual conversation at all in the past year. Six in 10 say they had a spiritual conversation only on rare occasions — either “once or twice” (29 percent) or “several times” (29 percent) in the past year. A paltry 7 percent of Americans say they talk about spiritual matters regularly.

But here’s the real shocker: Practicing Christians who attend church regularly aren’t faring much better. A mere 13 percent had a spiritual conversation around once a week.

Over the past few weeks, I have been focusing on two original spiritual classics: The Dialogue from Catherine of Siena and The Rule by St. Benedict. What has struck me is the relevance of some aspects of St. Benedict’s “Rule” to Merritt’s book. Benedict takes speech and talking, as well as silence, very seriously. Is there something that “Holy Father Benedict” can say to us that is relevant and compelling? Is there a relevant juxtaposition of “Speaking God” and Benedicts Rule that offers a way towards a more civil discourse? Over the next few weeks, let’s take a look at those questions.

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