The grammar of faith

And yet…”

The more I read the Bible the more I am convinced that those might be two of the most provocative words ever spoken. The people sinned, and yet…. Moses didn’t think he could lead the people, and yet …. Christ died and was placed in a tomb, and yet….

They’re two tiny words that carry the potential of God tucked inside their etymology.

I’m a big fan of “and,” — of all conjunctions really. I loved that little engineer on the School House Rock cartoon from the 1970s.

“Conjunction, conjunction, what’s your function?” And I would actually sing in response, “hooking up words, phrases and clauses.”

I think God appreciates conjunctions. They’re a storyteller’s dream and God is nothing if not a phenomenal storyteller.

But despite the Lord’s and my own fondness of for-and-nor-but-or-yet-so, which place everything in relationship (whether we like it or not), I am most drawn to prepositions. These are the words that provide you with a place in time and space. One can never get lost with prepositions.

In junior high school we had to memorize the list of prepositions. In my head I can still ramble off “aboard, about, above….” But then things get shaky (for the curious, the complete listing is below).

I’m surprised sometimes that I’m not the only one with a preference for prepositions. If you pay close attention, you’ll find the world is full of people with an appreciation for grammar – the art of letters and rules of language. Writer Michele Morano, for example, believes that each of us has a part of our mind that holds our stories. “It’s a place,” she says, “where grammar is felt before it’s understood.”

The United Church of Christ has based their whole identity around a grammatical concept. In a national advertising campaign, it adopted a comma as its symbol and quoted comedian Gracie Allen, “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.”

The people of the UCC believe God is still speaking and that “there is more truth and light yet to break forth from God’s holy word.”

At the recent United Methodist General Conference, Bishop Mark Hanson, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, preached a sermon that included thoughts on grammar.

He marveled that “we worship a God who is both subject and predicate – the actor and the action – the doer and the deed.”

Hanson also explored the subjunctive tense.

In language, there is the indicative mood, which is for knowledge. It tells you facts and describes what has happened, is happening or will happen. The subjunctive mood is trickier. It’s uncertain. It helps tell you what could have been or what might be.

Society, Hanson said, is suffering from “subjunctivitis” – a wishy-washy hope of what God might have in store.

“We hear Jesus’ indicative promises in a subjunctive voice,” Hanson said. In a rootless, and restless world, we’re reading Jesus’ promise as: ‘You may be one of my branches, if ….’”

But Jesus’ words must be read with the certainty of the indicative. “I am the vine, you are the branches. I have loved you the way my Father has loved me. You didn’t choose me, remember: I chose you.”

When heard in this manner verbs begin to break out, as the church takes action. We celebrate, connect, learn, serve and tell our stories. We believe, Hanson said, that we can “more imaginatively, evangelically, prophetically and abundantly bear fruit for the sake of the Gospel and the life of the world.”

In the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore there is a painting of an allegory of grammar from 1650. A woman draped with the words she loves is watering some plants because she knows grammar makes ideas grow. It can also make faith grow – and bear Gospel fruit.


Prepositions — (School House Rock will tell you that ten of them do most of the work: of, on, to, with, in, from, by, far, at over, across. There are many more. Choose the one that best suits you.)

aboard, about, above, absent, according to, across, after, against, ahead of, along, alongside, amid, amidst, among, around, as, as far as, as well as, at, atop, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, by, by means of, despite, down, due to, during, except, far from, following, for, from , in, in addition to, in case of, in front of, in place of, in spite of, inside, inside of, instead of, in to (into), like, mid, minus, near, near to, next, next to, notwithstanding, of, off, on, on account of, on behalf of, on top of, on to (onto), opposite, out of, outside, outside of, owing to, over, past, plus, prior to, regarding, round, save, since, than, through, throughout, till, times, to ,toward, under, underneath , until, up, upon, with, with regards to, within, without.


One response to “The grammar of faith

  1. “And yet” . . . thank God for the “and yet’s” in my life! I like this exploration into faith’s grammar!

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