For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armour was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and
the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt
their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects….
For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach [people] how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain.
– Dorothy Sayers, The Tools of Learning
America’s spiritual vocabulary – with its huge defining terms such as “God,” “soul,” “sacrifice,” “mysticism,” “faith,” “salvation,” “grace,” “redemption” – has been enduring a series of abuses so constricting that the damage may last for centuries. Too many of us have tried to sidestep this damage by simply rejecting the terminology. The defamation of a religious vocabulary cannot be undone by turning away: the harm is undone when we work to reopen each word’s true history, nuance, and depth. Holy words need stewardship as surely as do gardens, orchards, or ecosystems. When lovingly tended, such words surround us with spaciousness and mystery the way a sacred grove surrounds us with cathedral light, peace, and oxygenated air. When we merely abandon our holy words, and fail to replace them, we end up living in a spiritual clear-cut.
- David James Duncan, God Laughs and Plays