Words are very powerful – written, or spoken, they have the capacity to build up, or to tear down; to encourage, or to dissuade. I have often spoken unwisely, wished my last sentence unsaid, or regretted the line I failed to add at the end of a note, or email, or the word of encouragement I could have dropped into a waiting ear. So many people have been kind to me, have reassured me, have taken an interest in whatever nonsense I had to say. . . but did I do the same for them? Too often, I know I fall short, despite being full of love and admiration for so many of my fellow humans: even some of those I know personally.
We are reticent people here in Lewis. Not long ago, I complimented an elder on his precenting that evening in church. He actually reeled backwards, as though I’d physically struck him. Perhaps, on reflection, that says more about my habitually sarcastic tone than it does about his ability to graciously accept praise. Nonetheless, it taught me a valuable lesson. It is wise to reflect on how infrequently I offer the kind observations that are in my mind, and how readily I manage to unleash the other variety.
Compliments were, historically, frowned upon in these parts, though. Remarks such as, ‘your cruach looks beautiful in the moonlight’ were viewed less as a prelude to romance, and more as a prelude to some serious peat thieving. To point out the beauty of a person’s cow would, today, merely be regarded as a bit weird. People would assume that you didn’t get out much, and that small-talk wasn’t really your forte. In your great-granny’s day, however, it would be seen as a possible precursor to witchcraft of the sort that left your cow producing skimmed milk. Fine, you might think, have a skinny latte and get on with it. Not your great-granny, though: she would have recourse to her own, or someone else’s eolas.
Eolas was what you might call a spell, or a charm. It usually combined ritual with verses of some sort, which were to be uttered in order to relieve the ill-effects of the evil eye. Witches were known to keep such valuable words in a book known as a ‘grimoire’, which comes from the same root as ‘grammar’.
Yet, despite these dark associations, the two most abiding grammar lessons I ever received were when I was sitting in church.
Just recently, a visiting preacher reawakened a precious memory for me. He read from 1 Corinthians 1:18 and I remembered the first time, nearly twenty years ago, that I heard a minister use the phrase ‘being saved’. I still recall that feeling, like a small spring bubbling up in my heart, joyous that salvation could be described as a process. Even now, I don’t fully understand why it made me so glad.
But it IS real cause for joy. Something that is called ‘the present progressive tense’, when applied to God’s work, has two great qualities: it is NOW and it is GROWING. ‘Being saved’ is better, even than simply ‘saved’, I think, because it reminds us of the Lord’s activity on our behalf, and in our lives all the time. Because He is present, we are progressing.
And the other grammar lesson? Some weeks – possibly months – ago now, our minister preached on Jesus’ command to us, if we do not yet know Him, simply to ‘come’. You can see in your mind’s eye, His hand stretched out towards you, imploring you not to delay. There are so many reasons not to put it off, but the main one relates to a straightforward question of grammar too; as the preacher reminded us: ‘the imperative has no future’. His command for us to come means, ‘come now’.
From the same source as ‘grammar’, and ‘grimoire’, we also get ‘glamour’. Oh, not the kind we associate with supermodels and sirens of stage and screen. No, this was the indefinable magnetism witches used in order to draw you to themselves. It is the same glamour that the world uses to attract us, and ensnare us. Ultimately, we will discover that it’s empty, just a pale ghost of a thing, without form or substance. But, ultimately is too late.
Jesus wants us to come now, so that we may be among those who are being saved. He wants us to pick His grammar over the glamour of the world, and it is imperative that we listen – now.