Tuesday, June 11, 2013
On clear articulation
On Clear Articulation for Clergymen.
'If they only could preach." So lamented the Reverend William Sloan Coffin, Chaplain at Yale,
and man of prestigious achievements and stature. He was speaking of the value and uniqueness of the Mass which he thought was without equal but unfortunately and often, was lacking good preaching. My personal lamentation is far less classy. If only Catholic preachers would articulate their words, I would be content with inferior preaching of the Word of God. H At least I could know what they are saying. And likewise hear them! How often I have sat and wondered what the devil is this guy actually trying to say?
I live in a religious house with more than twenty priests, all of whom speak publicly at various times representing official Catholic teaching. Some of them articulate like a low grade Public school graduate. Besides garbling, many speak mechanically without intelligent interpretation! What kind of PR is it when our spokesmen slur their speech with a mechanical sing song style? Is this a component factor to the modern complaint that going to "Church" is boring?
For example, one cleric speaks as if he had a huge plug of phlegm in the back of his throat as his words struggle to emerge through the filmy barrier. What message can get through? Another one speaks as if his lower mandible is wired shut. Really as if he had a broken jaw. His upper lip is frozen and his words sneak out apparently meaning something. His mumbling is exceedingly difficult to unravel especially for unfortunates like me who have hearing problems. Besides he drops his voice as if he were becoming really "cool" with a terribly relaxed poise. Still another speaks with such an overwhelming rapidity, the listeners feel like they are on the A train to Brooklyn. One of the resident scholars has a new dental plate which molds his mouth into a permanent look of " sucking a lemon." He has become so cool that he, in a studied manner, lowers his voice as if the CIA were investigating his secret life with electronic devices. Another bellows away in a manner he considers fantastic but instead his listeners hear a strange Caribbean accent with emphasis on the wrong syllable. Still another, while articulating clearly enough, works his way through words with an annoying ponderous style.. I am frustrated. When is he going to get to his point? With his heavy intonations and plodding Slavic penumbras, I get to chomp at the bit and interiorly scream for closure to any one of his ideas! And on and on and on. In the style of the famous Henry Higgins, the expert in speech, I jocosely lament "Why can't they be like me?"
And yet, it may be more than mere elocution . Perhaps, it touches something much deeper. Recently I attended a Mass at a Slavonic Church with a young, clear faced Slavic priest leading the congregation which was largely old country in origin. Though I understand nothing in Slavonic, though the beautiful Church had terrible acoustics, though I am hard of hearing, I left the Church feeling uplifted and grateful. The young priest was enormously reverent and totally immersed in God. I wish I could have shared in his holiness through his words but at least he "messaged" to me a contact with the Lord by his posture and manner. Maybe my lament is not only about the absence of worldly speaking skill in Church presentations but more profoundly about the lack of personal God-contact in priests.
As I re-read the above, a sudden thought strikes me. Perhaps, I am writing to myself. Let me be careful about my articulation but even more let me be aware of the greatness of God and the world of the spirit. This little outburst of mine becomes a meditation. Well, what do you know?