Cultivating Meaning

As soon as I make a cup of tea, it cools and I drink it. It isn’t static. It doesn’t grow warmer nor does my cup refill itself.

The modern mind suffers under the delusion that everything is improving all the time even when we have hard evidence to the contrary.

I have been enjoying Owen Barfield’s Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning. He discusses why when we say “old prophets” it means something different than when we say “prophets old.” The meaning in our words matters.

Barfield notes, “When the best ancient language is compared with the best modern language, it so often appears as endued with an extraodrinary richness and splendor.” 

After making this observation, he asks, “Where is the fallacy in that proud conception of evolution of language from simplicity and darkness to complexity and light?” 

Put simply, language is not improving. Rather, our coarse slang and improper grammar seem like a return to illiteracy when compared with Shakespeare or the King James Bible.

Historian Victor Davis Hanson writes about the rise of Ancient Greek civilization: “The Widespread propagation for the first time in Greek history of permanent crops- trees and vines- seems to me every bit as significant as the more heralded intellectual, social, and military renaissance of the Greek seventh and eighth centuries. The spread of grafting and budding, which so helped to tie the new Greek tree and vine farmer to the soil, was as important as the rediscovery of writing and the rise of philosophical speculation.”

Greek society evolved and improved, but it obviously didn’t stay that way. It is like meaning in language: at one point, it was improving and sharpening, but then it again slid into decline.  Hanson writes, “With the demise of the inward-looking, stodgy yeoman, enormous wealth and poverty ensued.”

The tea both cooled and was drunk to the dregs. 

If linguistic meaning and civilization don’t continuously, spontaneously improve, neither does our spiritual life. 

We should not expect our relationship with Jesus  to just continue improving without intensive, daily cultivation on our part. While Jesus never moves, our natural bent is to take small, half-steps farther from Him until we look up one day to find that He is not nearby. We can’t expect our spiritual life to just evolve, improving without any effort from us.

As the poets of old sharpened their metaphors to enhance their meaning, we must sharpen our minds to comprehend God’s meaning in His Word. 

As the Ancient Greeks learned grafting and cultivation, so we must cultivate the daily practice of the presence of God- worship, praise, thankfulness, prayer. 

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, and self-control aren’t products of spontaneous generation that evolve no matter what we think, say, or do. We must purposefully grow them, cultivating them daily. 

We can only continue growing closer to Christ with His help. He is the Vine Dresser. We are simply the branches, but we must daily abide in Him.

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