“T’ maister nobbut just buried, and Sabbath not o’ered, und t’ sound o’ t’ gospel still i’ yer lugs, and ye darr be laiking! Shame on ye! sit ye down, ill childer! there’s good books eneugh if ye’ll read ’em: sit ye down, and think o’ yer sowls!”
Thus spake Joseph, the lifelong erstwhile servant of Wuthering Heights in the broad Yorkshire dialect given to him by Emily Bronte. Not my usual kind of book, but someone said I should read it and surprisingly, despite Joseph’s nigh on impossible to read speech, I am very much enjoying it.
But having to read and re read the passages where Joseph announces his oft voiced disapproval set me thinking about the ways in which we are heard and the ways in which we are misheard, or misunderstood.
In the modern age, where communication is instant and digital, you may think that this brings a degree of accuracy. But, sadly, no. Text messaging, Facebook messengering, Whatssapping, or whichever particular way you chose to send your missives are just as open to being misunderstood as Joseph in all his Yorkshire glory. Here’s an example….
That’s a particularly bad example, the like of which a former Prime Minister also fell foul. But it doesn’t even have to be that obviously disastrous. A poorly chosen emoji, a misplaced comma or even a long silence can be misunderstood as a slight or as simply rude.
I wonder if there are any perfect forms of communication? Any that are not open to being misunderstood? Certainly the way digital instructions work, the series of zeros and ones in a binary string (01101001 00100000 01101100 01101111 01110110 01100101 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101 = ‘I Love you’ apparently) seems to be pretty infallible, but it’s only ever as good as the person inputting the data. Miss off a zero and you could just as easily be telling someone you’d rather they jumped off a bridge rather than declaring your undyng love and affection..
So it seems there are no perfect forms of communication. We are even suspicious that prayer, our communication with our creator, might be imperfect. We say the things we want to say, often not in the right order or in any kind of structured way. We ramble on about our wants and needs, throw in a well-known prayer or two and hope that it all somehow gets through. We have heard it said that God hears and answers prayer, but do we really believe it? Why does it take God so long to answer? And why, when he does get back to us, does he seem to answer in the least expected way?
I wish I knew. But what I do know, from personal experience and from listening to many people talk, is that God does indeed hear and answer prayer. You may think that prayer, like text messaging is not perfect, the long silences, the unexpected and unlooked for answers, but that is because we are expecting God to do what we are asking. Prayer isn’t about persuading God to do something, like he is a curmudgeonly old man who will only help under sufferance. Prayer is about being in relationship, being alongside our creator in the most intimate way, bearing our souls and wants and needs and desires in abandoned hope that these wishes might come true through the power of God’s grace and through our own efforts and work (Don’t forget – you are often the answer to your own prayer).
During the last week of this month, as we approach Pentecost, we will be focusing with many other Christians on our life of prayer with the initiative ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. We will be thinking together about how we pray, why we pray and exploring some different ways of doing it. There are further details on our website: http://www.parishofabe.org.uk/
This is a global movement of prayer and you can read more about it, and ledge your prayers here: https://www.thykingdomcome.global/
Sending a text message into the ether is a risky business. It stands the risk of being misunderstood, misinterpreted or simply ignored by the recipient. I like to think of our prayer to God as reaching out into the void with the firm hope that your hand is going to be held tight, grasped and not let go. For though we may often think that God ignores us, or doesn’t hear us, or misunderstands us, God knows exactly what we need.
Hold out your hand… it WILL be held.
P.S. Find the translation of Joseph’s words in Wuthering Heights on this useful website: http://www.wuthering-heights.co.uk/josephs-speech.php