The Saining of Speech

From Oban to Skye, from the Outer Hebrides to St. Kilda they traveled, two Aberdeen photographers intent on capturing and preserving the life of a remarkable people.  The beautifully colored lantern slides of  George Washington Wilson and Norman Macleod,  an iconic collection now in the hands of Mark Butterworth, were produced in the late 1880s, fifty years before color photography came to Scotland,

Even as Wilson and Macleod pursued their photography, Alexander Carmichael was traveling the highlands and islands from Arran to Cithness, from Perth to St. Kilda, collecting traditional prayers, invocations and blessings of the people. Between 1855 and 1899, he compiled his Carmina Gadelica (Gaelic Songs),  magnificent examples of Celtic tradition combined with Christian faith.

After St. Patrick’s arrival in Ireland and St. Columba’s missionary journey to Scotland, a unique culture, theology and spirituality began to evolve.  Our modern eagerness to separate sacred and secular would have seemed laughable to those early converts.  In the words of Avery Brooke, “Celtic Christians seldom left the spiritual behind in the living of their lives, nor the world behind in their prayers.”   Tolerant of  Celtic beliefs and practices, Christian missionaries were more than willing to adapt the prayers, blessings and invocations Celts wove into the fabric of their daily life. As Brooke says, “Christ was the Chieftain of Chiefs, but the old tales, songs, customs and runes – not to mention the crops, the fish, the daily work and nightly sleep – were sained, or marked with the sign of the cross, just as were  fæiries, banshees and people.”

At heart, saining was a matter of consecration, but not in our modern sense of setting aside or apart. We tend to understand consecration as removal from the realities and routines of daily life, but for the people of the Isles, consecration elevated and hallowed every ordinary circumstance.

Certainly there were morning prayers and evening prayers in Celtic devotion,  invocations of the Saints and hymns to Jesus.  But far more than obviously “religious” prayer was woven into the fabric of Celtic spirituality.  There were rituals to mark the passing of the days and the cycles of the year. There were blessings for households, for the “smooring” of fire at night and for kindling that “lifted up” fires in the morning.

There were songs for the heifers and milk cows, prayers for protection of cattle and songs of praise for the ocean and moon.  There were blessings for fishing, hunting and reaping,  prayers for travel and prayers for sleep.  Celtic prayer was less something one “did” than an attitude one nourished, an attitude at once grateful and receptive.  Like the hearth ember nurtured each morning and protected each night with ritual and prayer, the spark of divine presence, the mysterious ember glowing at the heart of the world, was to be tended by a grateful humanity. (Click here to read more)

Among the blessings and invocations collected by Carmichael are The Clipping Blessing, The Loom Blessing, and the Consecration of the Seed. The words shimmer with  reflected light from a nearly forgotten time, charmingly bereft of hesitation or embarassment. In The Clipping Blessing, the petitions hardly could be more specific.

Go shorn and come woolly,
Bear the Beltane female lamb,
Be the lovely bride thee endowing,
And the fair Mary thee sustaining,
The fair Mary sustaining thee.
Michael the chief be shielding thee
From the evil dog and from the fox,
From the wolf and from the sly bear,
And from the taloned birds of destructive bills,
From the taloned birds of hooked bills.

In the Outer Isles, on the Island of Uist, Carmichael tells us “when the woman stops weaving on Saturday night, she carefully ties up her loom and suspends the cross or crucifix above the sleay. This is for the purpose of keeping away the brownie, the banshee, the ‘peallan’ and all evil spirits and malign influences from disarranging the thread and the loom.  And all this is done with loving care and in good faith, and in prayer and purity of heart.”    Again, the concreteness of the petition and the obvious certainty that the smallest detail of life is of concern to the divine is made clear:

In the name of Mary, mild of deeds,
In the name of Columba, just and potent,
Consecrate the four posts of my loom,
Till I begin on Monday.
Her pedals, her sleay and her shuttle,
Her reeds, her warp, and her cogs,
Her cloth-beam and her thread-beam,
Thrums and the thread of the plies.
Every web, black, white and fair,
Roan, dun, checked and red,
Give Thy blessing everywhere,
On every shuttle passing under the thread.
Thus will my loom be unharmed
Till I shall arise on Monday.
Beauteous Mary will give me of her love,
And there shall be no obstruction I shall not overcome.

Finally, in The Consecration of the Seed, the intimate relationship between early Christian and Celtic belief is laid bare. Carmichael notes that “three days before being sown the seed is sprinkled with clear, cold water, in the name of the Father, and of Son, and of Spirit, the person sprinkling the seed walking sunwise the while.”  The baptismal and Trinitarian influence is clear.  What is less obvious is the  meaning of “sunwise walking”, a reference to pre-Christian ritual.

I will go out to sow the seed
In name of Him who gave it growth;
I will place my front in the wind,
And throw a gracious handful on high.
Should a grain fall on a bare rock
It shall have no soil in which to grow;
As much as falls into the earth,
The dew will make it to be full…
I will come round with my step,
I will go rightways with the sun,
In the name of Ariel and the angels nine,
In the name of Gabriel and the Apostles kind.
Father, Son and Spirit Holy
Be giving growth and kindly substance
To every thing that is in my ground
Till the day of gladness shall come.

To hear the invocations, blessings, runes and dedications of the Celts is to experience their love and deep respect not only for life but for language. Filled with power, intimately lodged in the hearts of the people, spoken out of silence to hallow and elevate every aspect of life, words themselves were understood as gifts to be cherished.  In a morning prayer collected by Carmichael, this phrase stands out:

Praise be to Thee, O God, for ever, for the blessings thou didst bestow on me – my food, my speech, my work, my health.

Praising God for food, work and health is understandable. Including speech as a blessing worthy of praise is more remarkable. Perhaps praise for the gift of words comes more naturally to those steeped in oral tradition. Perhaps isolation and difficult conditions increase a community’s gratitude for speech. Whatever the motivation, it cannot be denied – the Celts always have nurtured and cared for language because they recognize language as a gift, necessary as fire and powerful as the sea.

We live in a world where language is being reduced by our technologies and desecrated on a regular basis in advertising, politics and human relations.  To have contempt for language, to willingly reduce the heart of our humanity by refusing the power of words, is utterly astonishing.  And yet, it happens.

In the midst of our remembrance of St. Patrick and our celebration of all things Irish, we might well take a moment to remember the people of the lamb, loom and seed.  The Celtic people offer us a legacy far greater than green beer, shamrocks and River Dance.  They offer a vision of life lived whole, a life well-attuned to the universe and content with ordinary days.  Above all,  they offer us the possibility of sained speech, words spoken and received with dignity enough to celebrate and consecrate our lives.

Be the cross of Mary and Michael over me in peace,
Be my soul dwelling in truth, be my heart free of guile.
Be my soul in peace with thee, brightness of the mountains.
Morn and eve, day and night, May it be so.
 
Originally published in 2009,  this has been edited and revised to include new information.
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  1. Hello Linda:

    It’s now 5:11 a.m (-5 GMT). I just read your blog post about the prayers of the Celtic people. As usual it touched my heart.

    My wife and I pray daily, before each meal and before going to sleep. It’s a ritual we never miss, no matter what. We pray for our food, for our health and for our relatives. But it never occurred to us to pray for speech. Now I’ve learned to treasure speech as a blessing and will include this concept in our daily prayers. Without the Spanish and English language I would be as silent as a rock. Lingua Franca would not exist.

    Thank you for such a wonderful blog post.

    Omar.-

    • Omar,

      Isn’t it funny? We often talk about our marvelous technology, especially the way the internet has opened the world for us. But we rarely marvel over language, without which we’d surely be “dumb” – not stupid, but incapable of expressing our hopes, frustrations and joys. We would be silent, like your rock.

      As you and Richard know, there’s nothing like learning a second language to get a sense of its power. When I was in Liberia, being able to greet people in their own tongue was like watching a door swing open. Life got easier for me on the docks when I became able to speak even the most rudimentary Spanish.

      One of my grandmother’s most frequent admonitions was, “Watch your tongue!” She understood the power of language, and helped me to understand it, too.

      Linda

  2. Your uncanny research abilities and the broad scope of your subjects and interest simply astound me, Linda! Seems I would have a lot to learn about the Celts to know if they were Scottish or Irish. But what I’d really like to know, was their Christianity of the Catholic Faith in those times?

    This piece is beautifully woven upon your word loom, and I have begun my day with a lesson on the saining of speech, how marvelous!

    • Bayou Woman,

      Actually, the Scots and Irish both are Celtic, and share the same ancestry. There are other peoples who claim Celtic heritage, too, and the history is fascinating to read.

      It was the Catholic faith that was spread both by Patrick and Columba.Patrick, a Bishop in the mid-400s, became a Patron Saint of Ireland (though not the only one!) and Columba, who went from Ireland to Scotland, died in 597 AD. Some of the details about these folks is truly funny to read. Columba, for example, was great-great-grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages, an Irish high king of the 5th century. Don’t you know there’s a story behind that? And tradition says his missionary journey to Scotland was rooted in a quarrel over a prayer book that led to a few deaths.

      Glad you enjoyed it! My mother’s side of the family has Irish roots, and I enjoy poking around in their history. They’re story-tellers, for sure!

      Linda

  3. Another quiet post. I enjoyed this so much. You till words with purpose, bringing them together in such beautiful sentences, paragraphs and thoughts.

    I couldn’t help but think of a little reference book I enjoy so much – “Brush Up Your Bible!” by Michael Macrone. He takes a page or two to dwell on the words and phrases that we quote every day from the Bible demonstrating its influence on our speech, ideas and customs. Just as he makes these revelations fresh, you have brought up the word “saining” and the perpetual attitude of prayer with such freshness.

    Another little book I enjoy and take with me when I visit a museum that houses art of religious works is “a handbook of Symbols in Christian Art”. It helps me search for and identify the themes of our biblical heritage.

    Thank you for writing this. Yes, most convincingly you show us “The Celtic people offer us a legacy far greater than green beer, shamrocks and River Dance.”

    • Georgette,

      There was a time when tBiblical language, as well as the language of Shakespeare, was common currency. Together with the work of other poets and philosophers, they shaped oratorical skills in ways far more profound than simply throwing out a quotation or two. Various kinds of public speaking – commencement addresses, Sunday sermons, political speeches – have become impoverished over the years, and the loss of common language has contributed.

      When I visited the King Tut exhibit in Houston earlier this year, it was fascinating to learn about the meaning of the various symbols incised into the statues and sarcophagi. Many symbols in Christian art can be just as mysterious to us, although their intended audience understood them perfectly well. What a splendid idea to take along a book to help with interpretation – it would make any museum visit more enjoyable.

      Maybe we need some Language Leprechauns to stir things up!

      Linda

  4. Linda,
    I just loved this story and all the words and Blessings you told. Your essay was entertaining and educational and I learned a lot.
    Thank you for a beautiful morning surprise!
    Patti

    • Patti,

      It’s always good when entertaining and educational get combined! It’s true – you never know what you’re going to get when you come by. There surely have been some topics I’ve thought would be just too, too boring for me to put words to them, but I’m not sure what they are!

      Enjoy your weekend – and St. Patrick’s day!

      Linda

  5. Linda this is so beautifully written and researched that I have to take a moment to rest and contemplate….

    Thank you for sharing the wisdom of the Celtic people and those wonderful photos. Darn right that they “offer us a legacy far greater than green beer, shamrocks and river dance.”

    I loved the photos. I keep going back to look at those faces. In photo #2 the group of women who are wrapped up in shawls on what is obviously a chilly day are all barefoot !

    Favorite quotes:

    “Celtic prayer was less something one “did” than an attitude one nourished, an attitude at once grateful and receptive.”

    “To hear the invocations, blessings, runes and dedications of the Celts is to experience their love and deep respect not only for life, but for language.”

    “…the Celts always have nurtured and cared for language because they recognize language as a gift, necessary as fire and powerful as the sea.”

    You are a shining example of someone who knows how to nurture and care for language, and I am fortunate to have wandered over here this morning.

    • Rosie,

      The link to Mark Butterworth, above, shows his book, “Destination: St. Kilda”. I’m intrigued enough to order it if it’s not available through the library. The photos are stunning, and you noticed the same thing I did – the barefoot women. I noticed, too, that they hadn’t just kicked their shoes off. Those feet have seen a good bit of trekking. It does look as though there might be some sort of leggings under their skirts – I hope so.

      I’d love to see the entire show Butterworth does with the Magic Lantern slides – I found only one other image online, but can imagine how beautiful – and fragile – they are. True treasures, for sure.

      I’m just so pleased that the piece resonated for you, and I thank you for your kind words. I should think that words get a little tired of being used and abused – all those verbs, nouns and adjectives need a little love, too!

      Linda

  6. This is a very interesting post, there are so many different threads of spirituality in the Scottish islands.

    Juliet
    http://craftygreenpoet.blogspot.com

    • Juliet,

      I thought about you when I was writing this. I wondered if you knew about Wilson, and Butterworth’s purchase of the slides. He apparently has done a good bit of traveling and presentations in assorted museums around your country. I’d go to one in a minute!

      St. Kilda was a revelation to me. I found a wonderfully detailed map, and really looked at the geography – the land is so beautiful, and the birds there are magnificent. I keep bumping into World Heritage Sites I’ve known nothing about – hidden treasures, for sure.

      One thing is certain – if ever I have opportunity to visit Ireland, I’ll not stop before I’ve seen Scotland and Wales, too. But I’d better start studying up – there’s a lot to learn!

      Linda

      • No, I’d not heard of these slides specifically. i recently read a book about St Kilda though and there were lots of interesting photos in that

        Juliet
        http://craftygreenpoet.blogspot.com

        • I’m going to be reading a good bit more about St. Kilda in the future – no question about that!

  7. Thank you so much for this lovingly crafted post. Perhaps because I live in a foreign language and pray in yet another (Korean and classical Chinese, respectively), I often lose the precious intimacy of language in my daily spiritual life. This is a wonderful reminder–and encouragement–to re-invest both daily life with prayer, and prayer with careful and well-intended language.

    • seon joon,

      You have provided a beautifully-phrased restatement of the primary point of the post – that our eagerness to tear life apart into realms we call “sacred” and “secular” is not the only way to live and experience the world.

      I’m especially taken with your phrase, “well-intended” language. Language often is thoughtless, but it certainly can be ill-intentioned. “Think before you speak” was a common admonition when I was growing up. We might do well to remember those words more often today.

      Thank you so much for stopping by, and for your thoughtful comment. You’re welcome any time!

      Linda

  8. Pray without ceasing indeed – and with actual words please!

    • Bug,

      You always make me smile – you have quite a way with words yourself. A good “way”, I might add – that’s part of what makes it so pleasurable to follow you.

      Linda

  9. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of attending an author luncheon in which Sharyn McCrumb was the guest speaker.

    When I moved to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, I was delighted to hear a lot of the ballads I had always attributed to Ireland, Scotland, and England, like Matty Groves.

    When Sharyn McCrumb described the immigration of the people from that area to Appalachia, she said something I had never realized. If you trace the geographical landscape from the UK through the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean to the Appalachian Mountains, she said, there is a continuation of the rock formation.

    They never left the mountains of their homeland.

    • Claudia,

      Lucky you! I’ve read a bit of what Sharyn McCrumb has to say about writing historical fiction, and found it down to earth and useful. I’d love to hear her speak.

      I know I’ve heard about the separation of the continents and so on, but certainly never thought about that kind of deep connection between the UK and Appalachia. It’s another variation on the old theme – you can take the folks out of (wherever), but you’ll never get the (wherever) out of them.

      The way the music has traveled, first across the Atlantic, and then into the Carolinas, across Appalachia and through the Mountain West is amazing. When I lived in Utah and discovered the Deseret String Band, I might as well have been listening to the jigs and reels brought to this country by my Irish ancestors. The sound of Cajun music was changed by the introduction of the accordian, but many of the same roots are there. And when I first heard Métis fiddlers last year, they could have been in Kentucky.

      I haven’t thought about Matty Groves in years. I got to hear it live from Doc Watson in a Houston club back in ’86. Maybe I can’t find my car keys half the time, but I remember important stuff like that.

      Linda

      • I could never find Mattie Groves because all I remembered was a song from my high school years by the Fairport Convention, but I thought it was by Pentangle and called Lord Donnell.

        One year, as I was walking around during a fiddler’s convention in Virginia, I heard it performed from the distant stage, but when I finally was able to get a program it wasn’t on it. I was back to square one.

        A friend of mine whom I met when I started working my last job was into Celtic music, and knew the name. Of course, as in all folk music, there are a lot of different versions. Sometimes Lord Arlen is the husband and Little Musgrave is the one with better dead kisses than finery.

        My favorite version is this one from a band with New York state roots:

      • The version of Mattie Groves that I know is the one that concludes Joan Baez in Concert. She carries it along with her voice and solo guitar for over seven minutes and ends it quite dramatically.

        • I had that album, and remember the version. Baez and Peter, Paul & Mary were the ones who introduced me to folk music. It wasn’t long before I was listening to Leadbelly and reading about the Lomaxes. It’s really been quite a wonderful journey.

  10. I had to print out the post so I could take it over to the sofa to read. I don’t know why, but that was better.

    Then I had to go back to the computer to follow the links, and that was pretty interesting too.

    Then I had to think about how speech does, or does not, define me–and whether I would still be myself if I could not hear or read the language of others, or be heard or read. Still thinking.

    Then back here to comment and Claudia has put in Sharyn McCrumb and the undersea mountain connection . . .

    • Gerry,

      I love your ponderings. Don’t you suppose we’d have to throw in the issue of talking to ourselves? We do a lot of it. Sometimes we listen to ourselves, too. I suppose that can be good or bad.

      I’ve always been fascinated by the Gospel of John because of his focus on the Word. It isn’t but a hop, skip and a jump to some other interesting thoughts. For example: perhaps our language shapes us as much as we use it to shape our world.

      I’ve told the story before of My Beloved Professor – the one who was obsessive about language – but you may have missed it. He used to plant himself in front of some poor unfortunate and bellow, “Your words are elegant! Your words are beautiful! Your words are compelling! But are they TRUE?”

      It was an unforgettable performance, and apparently at least that lesson stuck. (This was the same prof who once asked, “If you had to wear a Scarlet Letter, which one would it be?” There’s something worth thinking about!)

      Linda

  11. Beautiful post. St. Patrick’s Day, like so many such days, has been so degraded as a holiday that I have come to shun it. You, however, have restored it to beautiful, contemplative meaning. “I will go rightways with the sun.” May we all.

    • Susan,

      When holidays resonate as “holy days”, there can be feasting, celebrating and sharing of traditions, but the sense of participating in something greater endures. When the “something greater” disappears, we get St. Patrick’s Day as communal binge drinking, obligatory green clothing and bad singing in bars. Phooey.

      Here’s a little something I think you’ll enjoy – St. Patrick’s Breastplate (The Deer’s Cry) recorded at The Hill of Slane and in Dublin. I was introduced to the song by an Irishman who wasn’t active in a congregation, but who sang it every day at sunrise. I was delighted to find this new recording – simple, but beautiful.

      Linda

      • Just lovely–and the thought of the fellow singing it each morning at sunrise is wonderful. Thanks for sharing this.

  12. Thank you Linda for this marvelous post, the history, the photos, and for reminding me to pull off the shelf one of my favorite books given to me years ago–David Adam’s “The Eye of the Eagle, Meditations on the hymn ‘Be Thou my Vision.’” Adam was born in Alnwick, Northumberland…was Vicar of Holy Island…and “discovered a gift for composing prayers in the Celtic pattern.”

    The consecration of speech is something my mother would have approved of…she talked often of the vulgarizing of America and was grieved when anyone “murdered the King’s English,” or spoke vulgar words.

    Lots to ponder as I am sometimes guilty.

    • Martha,

      Many thanks for the introduction to Adam. I’ve not read his work, but I found the musical settings done by Iona last night, and enjoyed them very much.

      When my mother taught me to be careful in choosing friends, saying, “You’ll be known by the company you keep”, she had other things in mind than the issues of this post. Still, her words apply. Annie Dillard puts it another way when she says the writer “is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, for that is what he will know.”

      The voices we listen to certainly do shape and form our own voice. I was very close once with a person for whom swearing was as natural as breathing. Over time, I found those same words coming out of my mouth – it happened as if by osmosis. Lesson learned.

      That lesson is one reason the television is gone from my house, and the primary reason I won’t post on certain internet sites. I don’t want someone searching for my work and finding it in the midst of snarkiness, suggestive language or just plain coarseness. In a way, I’m telling my words exactly what my mother told me: “Be careful of the company you keep”.

      Linda

  13. Oh, after reading this, I can feel the chills, earthiness and majesty of these prayers and poems. Blessing the cattle, singing to the planets, handprints on the looms – I can’t think of anything more beautiful.

    I see so much to be blessed, the flight of birds, the first brave sprouts of spring, the moon forcing its way into the early twilight – I can go on and on…I need to hold these things close, as your post so eloquently states.

    • aubrey,

      That’s it, exactly. “Majestic earthiness” – a perfect phrase for the gift that is the Celtic view of life.

      It’s always seemed an irony to me that a way of life dismissed as “primitive” by so many is such a beautiful expression of Christian faith. If in fact God created everything, and all of creation is imbued with his presence, then blessing a loom makes as much sense as anything else. The tug we feel when we see the birds, the sprouts, is a call – the response is up to us.

      Linda

  14. What beautiful language, and the photos are striking. Thank you for sharing this. I wonder if this area is part of the Orkney Islands. They are home to some of the oldest stone structures known to us.

    • Julie,

      Yes, indeed. The Orkney Islands lie just about 10 km off Scotland – they’re beautiful, and not very well known individually.

      There’s a lovely page here that has some photos and information. It does tickle me – we say “Scotland” or “Ireland” as though it’s just one chunk of dirt. It’s the same response of people new to Texas who fly into Houston over the East Texas piney woods and wonder where the cactus are! There’s always more variety to a place than we imagine.

      Thanks for stopping by – it’s a pleasure to see you.

      Linda

  15. In this post, Linda, you have reminded me once again of how deeply connected I feel to this land and people and heritage that surely is part and parcel of my very being. I’m lucky to have visited Ireland years ago but would love to go back and see it with new eyes.

    I have several coloring books of Irish designs, similar to ones you have included here. I always expect to use 2-4 different colors for the drawings, but I’ll never forget when I started one intricate layout that…totally unbeknownst to me when I started…was one contunous line. One color. Talk about connectivity…a way of life you have descibed so well. With all our present technology, we have no clue and will never be able to approximate it!

    • Ginnie,

      The thought of seeing Ireland with “new eyes” reminds me of a favorite quotation from Anaïs Nin: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Whether we’re talking about paintings, political leaders or past experiences, our vision and understanding of them says as much about us as it does about what we’re observing. And if our vision and understanding never change? Perhaps we’re not changing, either.

      I love the thought of the coloring books. It suddenly occurs to me they could make terrific patterns for needlework projects. And that one continuous line reminds me of a news story you might have missed.

      Last fall, a young couple went with their child into one of those corn mazes that pops up every autumn. Apparently it seemed like one continuous line to them, too, because they got lost in the maze. They finally called 911, panic-stricken because they couldn’t find their way out. They had plenty of technology with them, but not a clue. Sometimes our separation from nature gets highlighted in the most unusual and entertaining ways!

      Linda

  16. The Celts is one culture that I’d like to learn more of. Thanks for this post, I remember it, and have loved the visuals. Ireland is a must-visit destination for me… some time, hopefully not too distant future.

    Anyway I feel a bit of regret that St. Patrick who was a missionary to Ireland, is being commemorated today with wild parties and drunken ‘orgies’. You may not have heard, but here is a link to what they did to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in London, Ontario. And I regret that’s a city in my country of Canada.

    • Arti,

      Reading the story you linked, I suddenly realized I didn’t see too many similar stories from the U.S. this year. Perhaps other news crowded them off the pages. Perhaps it’s become such a commonplace no one thought it worth reporting on. In any event, it is sad that celebration and destruction so often are linked, whether it’s a sports victory or a Saint’s Day.

      It used to be the expression was “any excuse for a party”. That seems to have been transformed into “any excuse to create havoc and destroy the very place where we live”. I certainly don’t understand it, and I have no patience for it.

      Some of my relatives have been to Ireland – to the very place where our roots lie. I’d love to go, myself. Wouldn’t it be fun to go together? ;)

      Linda

  17. I first noticed people’s vocabularies shrinking. Then, I noticed more people using catch phrases more than content. Now, when I watch the news I have to wonder why more than one person is interviewed because it seems they mimic one another with very little content.

    Once in a great while a person breaks from that norm and has a great deal of content with their own phraseology. I can spot them quickly because they aren’t yelling and the anchors don’t permit them as much time. Those with the least content and most catch phrases yell the loudest.

    Of course I realize there’s much more to your thoughts here, but words and speech come from reading in my opinion. People need to quit listening and watching and begin reading and thinking. (a good read)

    • sherri,

      I discovered this morning that my post, “Simplify, Simplify” has been linked by another site. The piece, entitled “Texts Without Context” is quite substantial, horrifying and true. (The link takes you to the first page. To read the rest, you have to log in to the New York Times. I’m not sure how I read it all the first time – perhaps you get one free read.)

      In any event, the point is at least visible in the available material. Exhibit A is David Shield’s book, “Reality Hunger”. To quote from the article:

      “Mr. Shields’s pasted-together book and defense of appropriation underscore the contentious issues of copyright, intellectual property and plagiarism that have become prominent in a world in which the Internet makes copying and recycling as simple as pressing a couple of buttons. In fact, the dynamics of the Web, as the artist and computer scientist Jaron Lanier observes in another new book, are encouraging “authors, journalists, musicians and artists” to “treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind.”

      What we’re seeing in those interviews you mention is Twitter in the flesh. The simple passing on of received bits of information via Twitter, Tumblr and so on, has replaced creative thought. Even though I make use of Twitter, I’ve been nervous about it. Now I know why.

      And when a perfectly nice person “re-blogged” one of my posts recently, I didn’t understand my instantaneous rage. Now, I do. It’s not too much of a stretch to understand WordPress’s “reblogging” process as nothing more than the redistribution of creative wealth. It certainly has made me consider whether I would put my next story out on the web.

      All of which is to say I agree completely with your last paragraph. Another way to say it might be that people need to begin creating more, and parroting less.

      Linda

      • I could be wrong, but I’m under the impression that when someone re-blogs a post, only the beginning of the original post appears on the other site. A reader of that re-blogged post has to click to see the rest of it, and that click takes the reader back to the original site. At least that’s what I found when someone re-blogged one of my posts last month. Like you, I was worried that it amounted to wholesale pirating, but I was reassured to see only the beginning of my post at the other site.

        • Steve, that’s right – but only for the FIRST re-blog. If someone receives a reblogged post and decides they want to pass it on, all references to the original post disappear – there are no links back to the original material.

          There are some folks who went to some trouble to test this out, and that’s the way it works.

          The funniest one I’ve found is Jigsaw Planet. A painter I know found several of his works there. At least they have a nice, convenient DMCA link at the bottom of each page for you to process your take-down notices efficiently.

          • Have you brought that to the attention of the folks who run WordPress? Seems like there ought to be a way that they could embed a persistent link to the original.

            • They know. They don’t seem to care. The response to the furor on the forums was to close the thread to further discussion. So it goes. At least now we get notice when someone reblogs – it wasn’t always so.

  18. Outstanding post. The lack of vocabulary and inability of media personalities in front of the camera – as well as in print – is alarming. Get rid of multiple choice tests and go back to essays. Read and discuss. Teach and practice civil discussion and real debate with logic, and reasoning. Or we will all pay the price. Enjoyed the read.

    • phil,

      Intuition is a wonderful thing. One of my first posts, written three months after I began blogging, is titled “Reading, Writing and Thinking: A Paradigm for Blogging”. I had no idea at the time how right I was, but that’s been the path I’ve followed through the whole of this little endeavor, and it’s been immensely satisfying.

      And as I’m sure everyone must realize by now, my conviction that discussion has to go along with reading is the reason I treat my comments section as I do. I try to think about what people are saying, and respond appropriately. Every now and then I pray to St. Bloggius, “Save me from the experience of being Freshly Pressed”. I’d have to quit my job to keep up with things.

      And by the way – I think we’re already paying the price.

      Glad you enjoyed the read!

      Linda

      • So agree. Time is a factor, but discussion/ analysis is critical…and being neglected. (I think you must live close enough to throw rocks at…if you look at the Beacon Hill/island pretend bridge and see a German shepherd being walked – it’s probably us…or we wind around go through the gate to the marina.)

  19. In our fragmented society we are often alienated – from the Divine, from each other, from our environment. Celtic spirituality reminds us that this alienation and separation is an illusion, which we have artificially created. We need to recover once again a sense of Wholeness and Oneness. Indeed, we need to break down the division of the secular and the sacred in our lives. Because, in the words of one of favorite poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful post, Linda.

    ~ Matt

    • Matt,

      I just re-read William Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence”. The entirety of the poem is rather more complex and thought-provoking than the quotation which came to mind, but I still like the quotation and it certainly supports your point:

      “To see a world in a grain of sand,
      And a heaven in a wild flower,
      Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
      And eternity in an hour…”

      Or, as I like to say, everything counts. Even the smallest bit of reality is capable of communicating the whole, and even the most ordinary person or event is fully capable of communicating extraordinary beauty and truth.

      There’s certainly no question that we recognize those moments of wholeness when we’re blessed with them. The trick is to allow them to arrive more often!

      Linda

      • Love William Blake, too, Linda! Love those first lines, too, that you quoted from “Auguries of Innocence.”

        Poets like Hopkins and Blake are indeed reminding us of the inherent wholeness of life. Same holds true of the great mystics – not only in Christianity, but also in other faith traditions. In fact, the experience of the unity of all things is an experience that is very much emphasized in Hinduism and Buddhism.

        For instance, rereading the Zen classic “The Three Pillars of Zen,” I came across this passage: “…the import of every koan is the same: that the world is one interdependent Whole and that each separate one of us is that Whole.” I may be mistaken, but, I think, this is also what William Blake is trying to say!

        But you’re right, we don’t need to be poets or mystics to be able to recover this sense of wholeness in our lives. All we have to do is develop the capacity to allow such moments of wholeness to happen in our lives more often!

        ~ Matt

        • Part of what makes your perspective so interesting is that you do live with “a foot in both worlds” – East and West. When I discovered koans, it was quite extraordinary to see truths I recognized expressed so differently. And sometimes, of course, I don’t understand them at all – enlightenment can be tough to come by!

  20. The word sain was new to me, so I looked up its origin. It’s from Old English segnian, from Late Latin signare, with a shift in meaning from the original Latin sense of the verb, which was ‘to mark’. Of course we also have the much more common sign from the same source.

    • Steve,

      Given the etymology, it’s interesting that the phrase associated with Ash Wednesday, baptisms and such is “marked with the sign of the cross”. Verb and noun, with a common source – wonderful!

      Linda

  21. Hi Linda– I’ve nominated your beautiful blog for a Kreativ Blogger Award.

    • Moonbeam!

      Thank you so much! I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to see you back among us – I’ve laughed and laughed at the guitar saga!

      And it’s a real honor to receive a reward from you. You’re among our most creative – I always head over to your place knowing there will be something interesting or flat funny. Both are good, in my book – very good, as a matter of fact.

      I’ll be by shortly to see who else might have been honored . I’ll bet they’re great, too.

      Linda

  22. Well, first off, I have to say that I’d best start hanging the cross up and saining whenever I take my glasses off because those Brownies seem to move those (and just about everything else I touch!) I’m still missing a pair of glasses (prescription) with the sunglass attachment. Grrr! I’m sure it will turn up under a pile. Everything else does.

    On a more serious note, I really find much to love in this post, Linda. The blessings are simply beautiful, and are worthy of standing on their own, even without the background and story attached. That said, hearing the whys and history is something that always moves me, so I’m so glad you went into such detail. The saining of speech — and your notes on how it seems to be flailing in this world are spot on. I blame instant messaging and hurrying too much — LOL seems to say it. Well, not for me. If I’m to laugh out loud, I’ll do it boldly and spell it out. (Or spill it out, as I initially typed!) Language is so rich and the turn of phrase is indeed a dying art. I’m glad I always find it well considered here.

    • jeanie,

      I have to laugh – I have several pair of reading glasses because they’re always disappearing – until I buy a new pair. Then they pop up again – and I still never can find a pair when I need them.

      Not until the last day or so have I thought about the fact that, growing up, I always was hearing someone say, “Bless you”. It wasn’t just for sneezing, either. If you did something nice for someone, they often would say “bless you” instead of “thank you”. It does get used differently now and then, as when someone says, “Bless her heart, she…” and then adds something snarky. But that isn’t how it was in the old days.

      When the furor erupted over the California teacher who banned saying “bless you” after sneezes, it wasn’t the terrible assault on religion some suggested. But I did think the teacher’s statement a little sad. He said, “When you sneezed in the old days, they thought you were dispelling evil spirits out of your body. So they were saying, ‘God bless you’ for getting rid of evil spirits. But today, I said what you’re doing doesn’t really make any sense anymore.”

      I don’t know. It seems to me we need every bit of blessing we can get in this world, even if it takes a sneeze to evoke it. ;)

      Linda

      • Bless me anytime. I can use all I can get!

  23. Linda, I love the idea that prayer was less something one did than an attitude one nourished. And the idea that the smallest detail of life is of concern to the divine is a comforting thought to me. It’s something I’ve thought about often. How could He be interested in my insignificant problems?

    Thank you for a beautiful post. I can’t believe the extensive research on many of your posts. Aren’t we the fortunate recipients of your curiosity?

    • Bella,

      You know, it’s funny. That business of not even a sparrow falling without God keeping his eye on it turned out to be important to me when I started working in marinas. In the springtime, there always are baby ducks all over, and let me tell you – the life of a baby duck is hard. They get pulled underwater and eaten by gar and snatched from the surface and eaten by seagulls and hawks, and there’s always one that just wanders off and is loudly unhappy when it discovers itself alone and in danger of becoming dinner.

      It got a whole lot easier to deal with it all when I adopted the attitude of a dear friend, who used to say frequently, “God, you’re going to have to take care of this, because I can’t.” Of course, sometimes she’d say that when she was coping with something really difficult, like losing a good parking spot at the mall to a competitor. I always felt like she was secretly hoping for divine wrath to pour down. Still, she was pretty inspirational to be around.

      Now that I think of it, the Celts probably would say a good parking spot was worthy of blessing, too. I know I’ve certainly felt that way!

      As for that research – there’s nothing I love more. Well, except maybe for hitting the road. But that’s research of a sort, now that I think of it.

      Linda

  24. This reminded of the way the Navaho view life—their connection of the everday with the spiritual and their appreciation of beauty in nature.

    It also was a painful reminder of how much we have lost and are losing in our quest for ever more information delivered to us ever faster and in ever more simplified form. Where is the knowledge we have lost in “tweets?”

    • Michael,

      The distinction you draw between knowledge and information is an important one, and recalls other pairings: knowledge and wisdom, facts and truth, text and context.

      The relationships are interesting. My next post will be a remembrance of a blogger who died a year ago, and who was important to me. Writing it has been a reminder that, with all the information in the world, we may not “know” someone, but, conversely, we sometimes can know another person even when we have very little factual information.

      As for the Navaho, I just was talking with someone last week about their practice of weaving an imperfection into their blankets, to allow a way for the spirits to go in and out. We could learn much from them if we wanted.

      Linda

  25. How very beautiful and naturally spiritual! I knew some about the Celts but not in this way—the love, gratitude, and celebration of life as life in the spiritual. If only we could live this way in our daily lives as in heart and spirit in that everything is spiritual. And the language… how soul stirring.

    This has given me much to spiritually ponder. I’ll return to read this again and the comments. Thank you, Linda, for a truly inspirational writing.

    • Anna,

      I’ve been thinking about the way you and Preston handle the post-processing of your photos. In some ways, the results you achieve are related. Instead of just seeing the thing itself – the barn, the house, the cattle – we begin to see their heart, the reality that underlies the surface.

      It’s a different approach than that of the photojournalist, although they have their own ways of communicating reality and the underlying complexities. But it’s a good reminder that the wisdom of the Celts still applies, even in our technological age. I’m really glad you enjoyed it!

      Linda

  26. Like the ice sheets that have retreated from the land in times past and are doing so again now, the Celtic languages have undergone a strange and some would say sad retreat over the last couple of thousand years. People speaking Celtic languages once inhabited much of Europe, including ancient Gaul (in fact the nasal quality of the French language may be due to the Celtic substrate, and the same could be said of Portuguese).

    What a change in fortune, then, for speakers of Celtic languages to have shrunk to a few relatively small groups today, with most of those under heavy pressure from English. You may remember in the movie “A Hard Day’s Night” that there was a media guy who was worried that the Beatles wouldn’t show up for his scheduled live program; if they didn’t, he was afraid he’d get demoted, as he saw it, to broadcasting the news in Welsh.

    • Steve,

      Love the reminder about that media guy. It’s a parallel to what some salesmen I used to know would talk about – getting sent to develop a branch in North Dakota. (It’s not quite so lonely up there these days, of course, what with the oil exploration and all.)

      I had friends who moved from Staffordshire to Wales, to a little village called Tywyn. It took me weeks to learn how to pronounce it properly. Perhaps the second year they were there, Peter undertook to learn the language, and sent a Christmas card with this greeting: “Gyda phob dymuniad da”. As I recall, it means somthing like “With every good wish”.

      My mother never spoke it, but she always said she remembered the sound of Welsh. There were a lot of Welsh miners in her town growing up – most of them not too far removed from the Old Country. There were Czechs and Croatians, too, and she said it was fascinating to listen to the differences in the spoken languages.

      In Louisiana, of course, French was proscribed for a time. Now, there are French classes all over the place as people attempt to reclaim the language for themselves and the younger generations. Perhaps the same will happen for the Celts.

      Linda

  27. I took a course at university about the History of the English language, in which the professor told us that all language is “living.” He went on to say that it evolves, grows and changes over time.

    True enough! There are words I remember from my grandfather’s speech that I no longer hear spoken today. Clumb being one, now replaced by climbed. I find that many irregular verbs are now replaced with the root + ed. In language I do not favor all of the changes. I miss the letters addressed to Missy and Master, which were written in pen and ink in a practiced hand that rarely faltered. Currently with all the short speak, and the hash of texting, I do wonder where we will end up in the future of communication.

    It saddens the heart this lack language. Words to make you see and feel, that bring with them emotion to feed the mind and swell the heart, words of romance and love. All seemingly fading away.

    It is happening so quickly. I worked with many young teachers who often asked me what I was talking about because they had not been taught the meanings of many of the words I grew up with. Once, in a classroom observation I was told I was speaking to high for my classroom full of ESL learners, that I needed to speak more simply. Thankfully, that same person came back towards the end of the year and found that my students not only understood me but used the words correctly in their own communications. (She was honest enough to compliment me later which was nice.) In language you do not learn what you never hear!

    And then I think, “Do we all feel this way at a certain age of our life? Does all this change make us long for the way it was when we were younger?”

    And finally, I recall an outing with a young teacher friend who could not read, nor decipher at all, the language and script of some old English texts displayed at the Huntington Library. I read to her and turned back to see her with mouth agape, and she said, “How do you do that?”

    And I thought, “How utterly sad that you cannot?”

    L8r,
    Lynda

    • Lynda,

      I’ve been absorbing all this and thinking about it. So many issues!

      I do think we develop a certain nostalgia as we age. Unfortunately, no matter how many times we cook the old recipes or wear the familiar perfume, it isn’t going to be the same.

      On the other hand, any assumption that as individuals and as a culture we’re on a steady uphill climb just isn’t realistic. We do go backward from time to time – “things fall apart”, as Chinua Achebe put it. And when they fall apart – as language seems to be doing these days – a backward look doesn’t hurt.

      As for that business about “dumbing down” (for that is what it is), I can’t help but recall much of the advice I was given as a new blogger. Two syllable words were allowable, if used sparingly. Simple sentences were preferred. And running each entry through an online grade-level analysis was especially good. Nothing above the comprehension of an 8th-grader, if you please!

      The irony, of course, is that as 8th graders, you and I could have held our own in many of today’s college courses. And many of my grandparents’ generation who finished with an 8th grade education were far more accomplished and well-read than today’s college students. More competent at life, too, in many cases.

      So. Here we are, with our fingers stuck in the linguistic dikes. What to do? One thing I try to do is produce quality writing that can tempt even the young ones to stop by. The post I put up today about the naked Pentacostals from Texas is funny, but it’s also caught the attention of a few kids who appear to be of high school age. Some of them have signed up to follow my blog. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll learn a new word or two, and notice that they’re entertained even without all the LOL-speak. LOL!

      Linda

  28. How fascinating to read this post, Linda, at a time when I have been learning first hand about Inca beliefs that are still practiced by the descendents of this civilisation, here in Cusco. Just as with the Celts, their world view is all encompassing.

    • Andrew,

      For some reason you’re reminded me of the old saying about academia: that it encourages learning more and more about less and less, until finally we know everything about nothing at all.
      Divide, define and categorize – that’s our ticket! Unfortunately, it’s possible to define life to death.

      I suspect the Celts and Incas appeal because they took another path.

      Linda


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