From the Psalms:
Hear my teaching, O my people;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.
That which we have heard and known,
and what our forefathers have told us,
we will not hide from their children.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary [Morning Psalm] – Psalm 78:1-3 (BCP Version)
– August 5, 2014)
This is the text from which I took the title of this blog, That Which We Have Heard & Known. I did so because of my conviction that we have heard and known many things from Scripture, but we don’t know that we know them. We have heard them. If we are Episcopalians we have heard them many times over, but they never seem to be familiar.
So I believe that we know them, we just don’t know that we know them.
Since the adoption of the current iteration of The Book of Common Prayer in 1976 (it is known as “the 1979 book” because it was ratified in that year having been first approved by the General Convention in 1976) with a three-year eucharistic lectionary and a two-year Daily Office cycle, Episcopalians have prided themselves on the fact that nearly all of Holy Scripture (about 80% is what I remember being told) is read in church in public worship in the course of 36 months. Since our adoption a few years ago of the Revised Common Lectionary with its “two track” options for lessons from the Hebrew Scriptures, an even more is read over the course of 72 months if both Old Testament tracks are used (I’m not sure what that percentage would be).
In addition, we like to point out that a good deal of The Book of Common Prayer — the prayers, the litanies and responsorials, the various liturgies, to say nothing of the Psalter — is taken directly from Scripture, so even when we aren’t specifically reading from the Bible, we are using and hearing the language of the holy text. However, in my estimation, we aren’t learning it! We’ve heard it, but we don’t know it.
If there is one abiding failure in my denominational tradition (and there are, I must admit, more than one, but for the moment we’ll limit our discussion), it is that we do not promote the biblical literacy of our members. And we seem to take pride in our failure. When Episcopalians are reminded about how much better some other Christian traditions are at remembering the words of Scripture, I have heard them reply along the lines of . . . “Well, in the Episcopal Church we aren’t required to leave our brains at the door; we’re allowed to think! We don’t just memorize bible verses.” I wonder if those who pride themselves on not “just memorizing” bible verses would also take pride in not memorizing the multiplication tables. If one’s brain is to function, if one is truly to think, if one is to undertake the calculus of faith, one must have at hand and in memory the data and the techniques required, just as one must know the numbers and the techniques of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to do the calculus of higher mathematics.
One of my favorite prayers in the BCP is the collect for Proper 28 used on the Sunday closest to November 16. Because it comes at the end of Ordinary Time, which is frequently truncated, we often do not hear it:
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
We Episcopalians are pretty good on the hearing, not bad on the reading. But marking, learning, and inwardly digesting . . . those we need to work on. We have heard them; we know them; we just don’t know that we know them.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.