How’d you spend your Friday night? I spent mine with a glass of Woodford Reserve poured from bottle 3763 of batch 1642 and a brilliant woman, Dorothy L. Sayers. Now, I know my simple glass of bourbon is nothing close to whatever Christopher Thoma was sipping on last night, but do you? If not, consider picking up his book, The Angels’ Portion: A Clergyman’s Whisky Narrative. I’ve only just begun reading it and it’s great!
However, my reading material more than compensated for what my whiskey lacked. The edition of The Mind of the Maker that I’m reading has an introduction by Madeleine L’Engle, in which the author of A Wrinkle in Time says,
“In her preface to The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy Sayers bewails the public’s inability to read. This illiteracy comes from neglecting to understand what the words are actually saying.”
And indeed she does. Sayers says,
The education that we have so far succeeded in giving to the bulk of our citizens has produced a generation of mental slatterns. They are literate in the merely formal sense–that is, they are capable of putting the symbols C, A, T together to produce the word CAT. But they are not literate in the sense of deriving from those letters any clear mental concept of the animal. Literacy in the formal sense is dangerous, since it lays the mind open to receive any mischievous nonsense about cats that an irresponsible writer may choose to print–nonsense which could never have entered the heads of plain illiterates who were familiar with an actual cat, even if unable to spell its name. And particularly in the matter of Christian doctrine, a great part of the nation subsists in an ignorance more barbarous the that of the dark ages, owing to this slatternly habit of illiterate reading.”
“Words,” she says, “are understood in a wholly mistaken sense.”
Now, to be sure, Ms. Sayers goes on to give specific examples of what she means to say. She has a certain point to make and she makes it well. But as I read her words I was reminded of what Eugene Peterson said, that which I quoted in the project announcement post for my ongoing series: Finding Truth in the Story.
“All our words have their origin in the Word that was in the beginning with God, the Word that was God, the Word that had made all things (John 1:1-3), but not all words maintain that connection, not all words honor that origin and nurture their relationship with the Source Word, the Creator Word.”
How do we understand words? I doubt that many people stop to consider that words – language itself – originates with the Word who took on flesh, Jesus Christ. People “are capable of putting the symbols C, A, T together to produce the word CAT, but they’re not literate in the sense of deriving from those letters any clear mental concept of the animal.” Or any clear mental concept of the Creator of both the animal that is CAT and the symbols C, A, T that produce the word which represents the creature in the English language.
This is the point of Finding Truth in the Story. My goal is to tie words back to the Source Word, or as L’Engle put it, “to understand what the words are actually saying.” Yes, Grimm’s fairy tales are great stories in their own right, simply as C, A, T. But how much greater are they when we actually become aware of the animal they speak of, when we are familiar with the actual cat?
Want to read the Finding Truth in the Story series referenced above? Visit Grail Quest Books. While you’re there feel free to check out other stories that point to the Biblical truth, such as Stitched Crosses: Crusade and Experiences of an Enchanted Sojourner.