there is something about not understanding

I confess that, although I am comfortable with modern liturgy, I lean toward the lofty. I adore the sound of "We have left undone the things we ought to have done, and done the things we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us." (Someday, when I'm going on yet another diet, I'm going to tape that to the fridge.) I actually get a kick out of "We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table..." And one of my favourite moments of the year comes on Ash Wednesday, when a priest dabs some grit on my forehead and says, "Remember you are dust and to dust you will return." Somehow, "Keep in mind you're gonna die someday" just doesn't have the same ring.

Ring. As I look back over what I've just written, I see that sound keeps coming up. I could as easily have been writing about music. The sounds of words, even of those I don't understand - perhaps especially of those I don't understand - have always intrigued me. When I was small, I named my rocking horse Gideon because it sounded like a good horse name. And I had a toy stuffed dachshund whose moniker was - what else - Doxology. For years, I've harboured a desire to attend an all-Latin mass. My high school Latin not-withstanding, I would understand little of what was being said. And while that would make many people feel left out, it might just draw me in.

There is something about not understanding, not knowing the exact denotation of every word of a ritual, that is strangely appealing. Last year I attended a ceremony in a Buddhist temple that involved drumming and chant. I actually went into a trance. Was so relaxed at the end that I could hardly stand up. I know little about Buddhism, and could not understand a word of the ritual. But it got to me. It got in.

So what am I saying here? That language can be a barrier? Maybe the Jews had it right when they forbade the naming of the deity. But what kind of attitude is that for a writer to have?

- K.D. Miller, in conversation with Christine Poutney and Susan Scott on the topic of writing about religion and spirituality, from the Winter 2016 issue of The New Quarterly.

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