Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Williams on language

[B]eing a believer is manifest in how we talk, in what we think of language. What if you could recognize people of faith by how they spoke? By an absence of cliché or of dehumanising mockery or glib consolations? And what if conversation meant taking on not just a new vocabulary and new ideas but a new style of talking? The "world" is a place where it is barely possible to speak without making things more difficult and destructive. The commonwealth of God is a place where speech is restored, in praise, in patience, in attentive speaking.
The language of worship reminds us of one theological reason why language matters to Christians. In worship, we try to "put ourselves under the Word of God," as the saying is; we try to bring our minds and hearts into harmony with what God has said and is saying, in Jesus and in the words of Scripture. We remember that God made all things by an act of self-communication, and when we respond to his speaking, we are searching for some way of reflecting, echoing that self-communication.
It is not that talking is evil or that it necessarily cheapens the truth. After all, if God himself communicates and does so in human terms, in the life and speech of Jesus, in the witness of Scripture, there must be talking that is wonderful, revelatory, transfiguring, that takes us into the heart of things.

- Rowan Williams, Where God Happens (Boston: 2005), 80, 81-82, 86-87.

Williams' theology is so frequently apophatic, pointing away from saying false things about God and ourselves, that some readers sometimes despair of finding anything but criticism in his work. Yet here is one of the places where he affirms that God speaks, that language is redeemable, the Word can and did become flesh and dwell amongst us, even if it was a strange and unexpected Word that turned our conceptions and language about God on its head and must shock us into silence from time to time.


Anthony Douglas said...

With the obvious application being to see how this works out in his handling of the current crisis/es in the communion.

You can see why he thinks talking and documents might succeed. I hope that the various dialoguers all share the same high ideals for their speech...

Christopher said...

Interesting quote.
Several philosophers of language note the deep connection between thought and language, Gadamer likens the relationship between thought and language to the Trinity.
So if our thoughts or "mind" is redeemed it should seem that our language should also take on a new redeemed quality.