Monday, December 05, 2005

A Book Review on Sacred Language

Michael Dirda
A season to remember the transforming power of sacred language.


The Elizabethan Prayer Book

Edited by John E. Booty

Virginia/Folger. 427 pp. $29.95

W.H. Auden used to warn against those who read the Bible for its prose. Ignore this advice. The hoopla of the next few weeks should be interrupted from time to time with quiet moments when we reflect on our lives and the years past and to come, and one of the best ways to do this is by meditating on grave and noble sentences. So, whether believer or not, turn to the Gospel of Luke:

"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. . . . And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David), to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."

As a boy, I would hear these words spoken aloud toward the end of December, year after year, and they never failed to deliver a shivery thrill of pleasure. I used to wonder why. The sentences were utterly plain, both in diction and syntax. Neither did they possess any narrative excitement, since I knew the story already, indeed knew it far better than any other in all the world. But the language -- like that of so many other passages from the Bible -- enchanted me with what I now think of as its deeply felt seriousness.

Read it all here:

1 comment:

Adam said...

Dirda was a guest prof at my college last semester. He seems to be a talented writer. And now paying attention to liturgical language. Cheers to that!