“In the beginning was the Word…” It was an easy mistake to make. People can embrace the illusion of a text as timeless, associating the Word with a lot of words. And I was nineteen.
Marshall McLuhan identified the relationship between language technologies and meanings, overstating his point that “the medium is the message” but the point is well taken. There is a trace of the oral in the written text, a trace of the written word on printed page, and in the pixelated images on my computer screen.
Of course first there is the spoken word. Oral culture predates written culture not only historically but with every child born. First they live, then listen, talk, then maybe someday read and write.
Over time, when sacred or even mundane symbols are pressed onto clay tablets, the clay itself containing remnants of living organisms. Ephemeral words and the eternal Word are only adjacent. To identify the medium with the message might be straight out idolatry.
Yet I still hope to hear the word of God in the person of Jesus through the medium of print or, better yet, read aloud. Today I participate in the Daily Office online. The selection of prayers and scripture passages read in the morning, noon and evening prayer, a practice going back to Constantine and monastic life in the third century, recited aloud in communities, now flickers on my laptop as I pray with an online community, though there’s no one else in this room.
I have focused too much on the otherness of text and word associated with the Word. It is incarnate. It is other than other; it is also this.
I close my laptop and put my phone out of reach.