REV. PHILIP MEYER, PASTOR EMERITUS
Have you noticed how much faster people speak today? I used to think it was because my hearing has deteriorated and I just couldn’t hear people, but even though I wear hearing aids in social situations it hasn’t really improved that much. I can hear people just fine. What I have a hard time doing is understanding them. Their words run together. I was told by another esteemed member of our congregation that there is a word for this: “Chunking.” A string of words becomes a single chunk. One has to find the spaces between these spoken words to make sense of them.
It seems that we are in a hurry to get all of our words out, like the TV commercial where the guy speedily tells you about all the exceptions and rules for a product. No one could really understand him but it fulfills the legal requirements to tell people what is or isn’t going to happen if you buy product X or service Y. If you were paying attention you’d say, “Whaaat?”
This malady seems to come because of our digital age. With all these tools of communication we can whip out a text or an email. Voicemails are often spoken so fast that we really aren’t sure what the message was.
In the Divine Service, I’ve noticed this for some time. It’s worrisome to me. Most of the congregation is ahead of me when we speak portions of the service in unison, like the Creed or the Our Father. The congregation is at least a word or two ahead of me. You all seem to be in such a rush to spit out the words I wonder if you really hear them. To me it seems like we are running a race to get a Personal Record. “Let’s see if I can speak the Nicene Creed in record time this morning. And everyone else seems to join in the race. And I’m still at the starting line.
No one has ever accused me of being a slow speaker. I like space between my words. It makes communication better. I told one Vicar that if his words were really important he should let them sink in rather than race to the end of the paragraph. Important words deserve weight. But they fly so fast from our lips that no one has time to think about any of them!
For example, when we confess the Nicene Creed [and I don’t like “saying” the Creed because that’s a speed drill!], we come to that part “and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary.” We have the custom of emphasizing that next phrase, “and was made man,” by bowing or genuflecting. But there’s no pause there! We’re already on to “and was crucified . . .” before we’ve had a chance to stand back up or pick up our heads. Serving at the altar I can’t see what you all are doing, but in the pew I do. We’ve moved on to the next phrase in that rush to finish the Creed in record time.
Are these important words? Of course they are! They confess all that God has done and still does for us. The only time we slow down for the Our Father is when the pastor chants it and the congregation chants the doxology or we’re off to the races. I sometimes wonder if we prayed all the petitions! There’s no time to reflect on them. I stand, sit, or kneel there wondering if I really spoke those words prayerfully. After all, it seemed like a rush job, as though we had a reservation for lunch somewhere or the football game might start before we got home for the kickoff. I don’t know. I’m not judging your motives.
This is a plea to SLOW DOWN! I’d like to think that we are not automatons who have a factory set speed. I’m pleading with you to let the holy words sink in. If they are important—and I truly believe they are or we should simply omit them and shout “Nicene Creed,” “Our Father,” and everyone knows what we mean and move on—or we should speak them deliberately. It doesn’t have to be snail pace—I don’t like that, either. It should be reverent and not like our table prayers at home which are often spoken mechanically and as fast as possible because we want to eat. After a few moments as we are chewing our food, someone asks, “Did we pray?” We did it without thinking. These words should have weight. They don’t have to be said dramatically. That’s not good, either. Drama doesn’t help. Just let the plain words sink in.
One other note for those who worship with me at Immanuel on worship mechanics. Since I nearly always sit in the pews with you, it occurred to me that we could be more economical with our practice of kneeling after the Prayer of the Church. We stand to sing the Sanctus and then kneel again until the Distribution. I suggest that we leave the kneeler down after the prayer of the church. You’re going to be kneeling again in about one minute. Skip putting the kneeler up. Then you’re already set for kneeling again. There’s plenty of room to stand. Economy of motion is the thing here. I don’t know why I never thought to mention it when I was in office. Sitting in the pew gives me a different perspective. Let’s try to do this and make this part of the Divine Service more reverent.