Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Performative Word

When God says something, it happens. What He says doesn't merely give information. His word makes stuff happen.

When He said, "Let there be light," there was light. And there's still light.

When He says, "I forgive you all your sins," then, by golly, those sins are forgiven. His word makes it so.

When He says, "This is My body," then something happens. That bread becomes His body.

His word created light. His word created fishes and birdies and critters. His word to "be fruitful and multiply" means that people are still having babies. His word at creation means that grass still grows and that we can expect our gardens to bring forth food for us this summer.

That's the "performative word." It doesn't just describe. It actually performs what it says. But does it matter HOW it's said?

I don't want to tread into a naughty ground that implies the words must be spoken just so, with the right inflections and the right tone and the right pauses and all that jazz, lest the words be powerless.  That'd just be stupid.

And yet, you've probably heard the same thing I've heard: people who can manage to speak words of sweet gospel with a demanding tone-of-voice, with a scolding face, managing to turn "Trust Me" into a damning command instead of a faith-kindling invitation.  You've heard people who can turn the Beatitudes into words of law about how we're supposed to act, instead of being the blessing that they are.  So does it matter how the words are spoken?

I was told recently that God's word must be spoken in God's way.

Wow.  That answers a lot of things.  That applies to the things I was just writing about.  But it also explains why kids playing church (baptizing dolls or pets, saying the Words of Institution) are not administering the sacraments.  These aren't magic words, incantations, effecting circumstances by their mere utterance.  But when God's word is spoken in God's way, it is performative.

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