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Hearing but not listening

News St Martin – Talking Points

Sunday 19 August 2012

On 15 August I was invited to mass in a small church in Southwest France where a friend of a friend was celebrating the Feast of the Assumption.  The Liverpool Protestant in me bridled slightly at the occasion, but curiosity (and the promise of grilled hare for lunch with the priest afterwards) won out.  Part of the price, however (of course), was that the service was in French.

As I tried to follow along with the missal, I was struck by the liturgy in a way that I normally am not.   Part of it was some happy double meanings: “salut” is how we greet friends, for example, but it also means salvation.  But part of it was the intimacy we have lost in the shift to modern English.  Even the most formal French people who will call their friends “vous” (“you”, plural), will call God “tu” (“you”, singular).  “Thou” and “thy” used to convey this in the 1662 prayerbook, but no longer.  Looking and listening to this, however, I found myself pondering for the first time in too long the transcendent, omnipotent God who is also intimate enough with us that we can address him as a close friend.

In St Matthew’s parable of the sower, Jesus tells the disciples that he speaks in parables because most people “hear but do not listen”.  As the liturgy washes over (or past) me on a Sunday, I worry frequently that I, too, hear but do not listen.  To hear the words in another language, however, made me listen (think and feel) again.  Don’t worry.  I’m not suggesting we switch to French.  But this rediscovery made me ask again: how do we keep the living word fresh — and living?  How do we find language to continually refresh our wonderment at the living God?

The Revd Will Morris