Wednesday, July 21, 2010

But Isn't It So Obvious It Doesn't Need to Be Said?

Proofreading yesterday, I came across the first line of a couple of prayers drawn from the Table of Duties. One began, "Heavenly Father, comfort all widows who have lost their husbands and are left all alone." The other began, "Heavenly Father, comfort all widowers who have lost their wives and are left without a spouse to love."

With my red pen in hand, I wondered if we were distinguishing between "widows who have lost their husbands" and "widows who haven't"? What kind of goofiness would that be?? Isn't "widows who have lost their husbands" a redundancy that needs to be struck, a la Strunk & White's rules for using the least amount of words possible?

I thought about that.

And I decided that proofreading theology is worlds apart from proofreading other English.

So often, in our prayers, we are redundant. We say back to God things He has said to us. We repeat ourselves. We speak words that are obvious, like "O Lord, the source of all that is good."

But why?

Because faith lives from the word. We say what is true. We agree with God. Our faith in His provision, for example, is strengthened when we hear (from pastor's mouth in catechesis, from our own mouths in prayer, or from a friend's mouth in the 'mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren') that the Lord IS "the source of all that is good."

In the prayers I was proofreading yesterday, we begin with "widows who have lost their husbands" because that loss is pertinent to what's coming up in the prayer about Jesus being our Bridegroom and providing all satisfaction and joy and comfort to those who have lost a husband. When it comes to theology and liturgy, being concise isn't always the best choice.


  1. Yes. There is a time for brevity, and there is a time for redundancy. Over the years I too have come to have a deeper appreciation for the latter. In the example you give, the dependent clause (starting with "who") gives us a much more concrete image than we would otherwise have. That is reason enough for it to remain.

  2. A time for brevity and a time for redundancy. Isn't that a verse in Ecclesiastes? ;-)

  3. Why yes, I believe it is. Just don't have chapter and verse handy right now. :-)