Is the cup half empty, or half full? It’s a common question—so common in fact that it is probably met with groans and eye-rolls. Obviously, the question doesn’t actually have a definitive answer. There is really no logical manner in which we can decide if we should err on the side of filled or the side of emptiness. This is because the question about liquid in a cup is more about an investigation into how we interact with the world around us than anything else. What is our perception of life? The language we use to describe the nature of the cup, then, signifies our deep and inner attitude.
I have been thinking of that recently, particularly as it pertains to the life of the church and the language we use to describe things around us. Like the cup including a half-measure of liquid, the way we describe the world in which we live indicates the spiritual reality in which we live. The words and phrases that we use naturally point, not just to our personality and temperament, but to the very manner in which we perceive the world.
Two events made this clear for me. The first was from a member of the parish in which I serve, when I announced the final approval for a building project we wished to engage in. After receiving the approval we needed, in what seemed like a miraculously short amount of time, someone remarked ‘That was lucky.’ In response to this comment, another parishioner responded ‘No, that was God.’ We may see this as amounting to nothing more than someone being more practically-minded; yet I had to wonder if something more was going on?
The second event occurred around Christmas time. The Parish of Holy Cross decided to do something different around our celebration of Christmas. Instead of having a Sunday devoted to our Lesson and Carols, and another Sunday devoted to our Children’s pageant, we decided to have a special evening where we combined everything. The Holy Cross Christmas Gala was born! We had our choir, in tuxedos and dresses; a stringed quartet, and our children taking a part in establishing a visual representation of the Nativity set. When all was said and done, and I was thanking people for attending, no one said to me ‘That was wonderful’, or ‘I enjoyed that.’ Instead, people said “That was glorious”, “It was very worshipful”, “I was moved.”
In each case, natural, common, and popular phrases were discarded in favour of a more spiritualized vocabulary. Spiritually rich terms and phrases were used to describe the events of life. These things may seem very subtle. IT may seem like I am making something out of nothing. Yet these changes in language indicates the manner in which life is perceived. The words we use are windows into our internal Spiritual livelihood. After all, just as there is a big difference between the internal attitude of optimism versus that of pessimism, there is a big difference between attributing something to ‘luck’ and seeing the occurrences in our life as evidence of the Divine hand. To see something as luck is to interact with the world on a strictly individual and bodily manner. It is understand events solely in relation to our own effort and accomplishment. When an event or occurrence cannot be justified in such a manner, it is then attributed to randomness or ‘luck.’ Yet how does ‘luck’ coincide with our understanding of God as Lord of heaven and earth? Is the appeal to something as ‘Lucky’ actually a dethronement of God as Lord over all of creation? Similarly, when we say ‘That’s Great!’ in response to a blessing or a wonderful event, instead of saying ‘Praise God’, are we inadvertently suggesting that God has no claim on that occurrence of blessing and wonderment?
It is interesting to note that Scripture holds no understanding of luck. There are beautiful passages in scripture where God plays behind the scenes, yet we uncover God’s subtle yet present guidance through the words ‘as it happened’ or ‘in the fullness of time.’ The books of Ruth and Esther are wonderful studies on this very dynamic. In the New Testament, The epistle of James reminds us that instead of saying ‘Today and tomorrow I will do this or that, we should say ‘If it be the Lord’s will I will do this or that.’ The activity of life is seen in the context of God’s presence. God does not simply observe from afar, but continually dwells within the tapestry of life.
In like kind, the song of Moses, the song of Miriam, The song of Deborah, The song of Mary, and countless others in scripture all put the favorable moment of life in their proper context—that of eliciting praise and worship to the God of blessing and grace. And, just as favorable times produce praise and worship, unfavorable times produce lament and petition. Yet the dynamic is the same—one responds to life spiritually, and each moment of existence is a place wherein one is invited to reach out to the God in whose presence we live.
Is this why Scripture speaks in length about how we speak. Psalm 19 ends with the famous prayer ‘may the words of my mouth… be pleasing in your sight.’ It seems to me that the use of such unforced, uncontrived, yet spiritually rich language is a mark of a spiritually healthy person, let alone a community. Doing so testifies that our spiritually is not something we play at during certain moments of the week, but is that which is fully integrated into the fabric of what it means for us to live in this world.
How often do you use spiritual language to describe life around you? What is the language of your church? Is it easier to attribute something to luck, than to the Lord? How can you begin to go about changing the language you use, to better testify to the manner in which you spiritually live out your life?