Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What is in a Name? Tuning Our Ears to the Grammar of God

These two quotations are the lens through which I view God's Providence. They are also the source from which I draw the name of my blog.

"For who even of slight intelligence does not understand that, as nurses commonly do with infants, God is wont in a measure to 'lisp' in speaking to us? Thus such forms of speaking do not so much express clearly what God is like as accomodate the knowledge of him to our slight capacity. To do this he must descend far beneath his loftiness."
(Excerpt from Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.13.1, 1559)
"It is part of the unity of the divine revelation that the Spirit of God lowered himself, and emptied himself of his majesty, in the human style of holy men who were led by him, just as the Son of God lowered himself in the form of a servant, and as the whole creation is a work of the highest humility. Simply to admire in nature God only wise is perhaps an offense similar to the affront which is shown to a decent, reasonable man whose worth the crowd estimates according to his cloak. So if the divine style chooses the foolish, the shallow, the ignoble, to put to shame the strength and ingenuity of all profane writers, there is certainly a need for the illuminated, inspired, and eager eyes of a friend, a confidant, a lover, in order to recognize in such a disguise the rays of heavenly splendor. Dei dialectus soloecismus-
God speaks bad grammar... "
(Excerpt from J. G. Hamann's  Cloverleaf of Hellenistic Letters, 1759).
Growing up in the foot-hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains has influenced not only my view of grammar as such, but also my view of God's Providence - those unique ways in which we perceive God's hand working in our lives. In other words, I take a descriptive approach to both grammar and God's Providence.

My own experience of God's speech is one of babbling-stutters, interrupted glottal-stops, inarticulate mumblings, and sign-languages rendered in "bad-grammar." My experience of God's Providence rings out with both the deep-darkness of the hollows and the pointedness of the mountain peaks - the rushing rivers lilting to the steady trickle of a blocked stream wating to be free. This I take to be God's Grammar. This I take to be God's "bad-grammar." God's Grammar is bad not because it is incorrect, not because there is some magic formula by which we are to judge the careful and careless ways in which God speaks, but God's grammar is bad because it is place-ridden. God's grammar is bad because it smells of the Incarnation - of a God made flesh. God's "bad-grammar" smells of a body lying dead three days in a sealed tomb. God's "bad grammar" is graced with the grittiness of dust and ash blown by the stirrings of a harsh-wind. God's "bad-grammar" is bad not because it is incorrect, but because it is not easily understood. God's "lisping", "bad-grammar" takes the "eager eyes of a friend, a confidant, a lover, in order to recognize in such a disguise the rays of heavenly splendor."

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