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By Heart

the stroom effect

In a recent conversation here it was pointed out that if you place the text in front of someone the majority of us cannot help but read it. That is true whether it is in a book, on a pew sheet, or up on a projected screen.

Even if people know the text by heart, they regularly have their head in a book. Even if the words are clearly being addressed to each other – we end up addressing them to the book. I regularly see presiders address “The Lord be with you” to a book! I regularly see congregations address “and also with you” to a projector screen!

Sure; for long, complex texts the person proclaiming that text will need to have the printed text in front of them: the readings, the collect, the Eucharistic Prayer. But the things we say to each other should be said to each other. By heart. There’s a reason we call it “by heart”…

And for many (most?) of us, having the printed text in front of us means we cannot help but read the text. It’s called the Stroop Effect. Don’t read the text in the image at the top of this post. As quickly as possible say out loud the colours of the words, left to right: red, blue…

Most of us are unable not to read a text if it is in front of us!

We live in a culture that ignores, devalues, and deprecates memory. But even we are not checking our cell phone or note book to see what the appropriate response to, “Good morning” or “Good evening” is. Once a community is comfortable with addressing each other by heart, one might start memorising other texts (there’s plenty of memory room – it’s not used for anything else!). I was recently speaking to a Christian who has a discipline of memorising 200 verses of scripture a year. Sound a lot? That’s 4 verses a week.

Psalms. Hymns. Great prayers…

With texts we know, especially those we address to each other, let’s have the self-discipline of closing the book, putting down the pew sheet or booklet. If your church uses screens – good luck stopping yourself from not reading the text there. Then it is up to your community to have the self-discipline to limit what it puts up.

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9 Responses to By Heart

  1. This wd be fine in congregations where the text is known, but the new, formal words of the Roman Missal translation work against this.
    For all sorts of reasons, the new translation aims to make celebrants and people pay attention to text – and the effect in many ways is to destroy the proposal you outline.

    • Thanks, Nick. I am not going to argue in favour of this translation, however my experience here at least is that Roman Catholics are using it in the manner I describe – the responses said to one another, priest-congregation, are generally said by heart. Blessings.

  2. You probably know that the object of the game in the image above is to say aloud the colour of each word, so that for the top line you would say “red, blue, red” – if my browser is set right – but the whole thing is very difficult. My son Matthew managed to it many years ago but I’m sure would now find it as difficult as I do.
    At the time, he knew his colours but had not yet learned to read.

      • Quite so. I wanted to tell your the key quality of those who can do it successfully: they can’t read. How this leaves members of the Church of Or who can’t read, I couldn’t say. We have already established that they can’t learn the service by heart because it changes every week.

        This also gives me an idea of something the lectionary writers could do to make liturgical colours even more confusing, if that is possible…

        • I was recently rehearsing responses with new members of our community, Ian, when I was asked, “does the response change?” There was delight when I replied, “No, just as the response to ‘Good morning’ doesn’t change when we meet each other each day.” Blessings.

  3. Dear me, what a carry on. Or is it just a complaint by presiders that they aren’t dominating things. i constantly sense the presider’s need to dominate. Some read , some don’t as it happens. i don’t usualy being gifted through DNA etc with a good memory. Others are not which makes them no lesser. I have never in RC, Anglicam. Uniting Church seen greeting of peace given to a book, buT may have had unique experiences. Actually we all do.
    And I have to say listening in to the droning on often sends me off into other realms of thought.
    In any church/demonination there seems to be a pharisaical need for incumbent, whatever she/he is called, to dominate and parish councils bow before them frequently to the unfortunate economic and general life of the parish/grouping. From time to time I have been called a difficult parish councillor.
    For God’s sake recognise our individuality and different needs,

  4. Bosco, I am once again bolstered in my wilderness by your post. YES! YES! Ofcourse I blame the standing committees! They seem to act so like vestrys. Admin focussed instead of the big picture. The Bish in any Diocese cannot oversee lazy/bad/crummy/patheticially trained presiders who do not for all the above reasons, teach the worshippers best practice [to use that oh so professional phrase, yet balst it, it doers sum it up so easily] I regulary froth in the congregation when i observe sunday after sunday very poor performances unto to our glorious God and Heavenly Father. OUR WORSHIP SHOULD ALWAYS BE OF THE VERY BEST QUALITY AND PERFORMANCE THAT WE CAN GIVE, ANYTHING LESS IS ABSOLUTELY SHAMEFUL AND BLEEDING ANGLICANS SHOULD AN DO KNOW BETTER.
    I love worshiping him my best effort and I pray that your voice will not be a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Sorry that Brian seems to think presiders like to dominate; for me its about being the conductor of a orchestra who oh so easily good do so much better, from notice boards, doors, newcomers, songs, hymns, words, peace passing, all the work of the people. “Forgive us father for we so fail to honour you in the way we worship on sundays”

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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