Sermon for the Letter “O”

Before I knew poetry, I loved its power.

I can’t remember now when I first memorized the Nicene Creed–perhaps for First Communion, perhaps for Confirmation.  I do not recall anyone teaching it to me by lesson the way my grandmother made my learning of the Our Father and Hail Mary her active duty.

My mind did not learn the creed.  My body learned it: ear, rhythm, voice.  I had, and still have, two favorite parts of the creed:

God from God.

Light from light.

True God from True God.

Begotten and not made.

Notice I’ve instinctively added line breaks where I’m not sure they exist.

I also really loved this:

We believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic church.

As a child, I was not making a profession of faith–how could I have done so?  As an adult, I know that one can only profess a faith once she has the capacity for abstract thought.  Abstract thought, and doubt: the front porch that welcomes us before we step into the old home of devotion.

No, I didn’t know what I was saying.  But I loved it.  I loved the sound of it.  All that assonance:

God from God.

Light from light.

True God from True God.

Begotten and not made.

I liked those “o” sounds packed so tightly into the same breath.  The hardness of the “g, an aspiration, and then the “o” forcing the mouth open even wider, the exhale extended.

But that “o” is not the “o” that really got me.  No, I like the long “o” in words like home, lonesome, atone, soul, poem.  That kind of “o” holds oceans and oceans of the unsayable inside its orbit; a black hole of sound, sob or sigh, prodigious little letter.

holy, catholic, apostolic

It would never have mattered to me then what the words meant.  They bewitched me.  I’m not sure it matters to me even now.

People seeking the divine are often sent in search of vastness.  Go to the mountains, we say.  Go to the desert or caves or sea or sky.  Go to that which is bigger and more beautiful than you.

But language, born of the body, is a landscape too.

I say go to the vowels and consonants.  Let them hold you.  Go to the phonemes if you want to go home.

 

Amen. 

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