Incarnating the Sacred
When I was touring the Pacific Northwest in June, my bandmates and I decided one day to take a quick mid-morning coffee break, leaving my car on a suburban side street in broad daylight. When we returned a half hour later, one of the rear windows had been broken, and my backpack was gone. That feeling of violation has continued to simmer inside me for months. It wasn’t until recently that I was able to comb through what exactly about the incident was so unnerving.
Robin Philips’ article “Scripture in the Age of Google”* sheds light on this. It is primarily concerned with the effect of a text’s form (or “vehicle”) on the actual content of said text (in Philips’ case, the Bible). Philips walks us through an abbreviated history of the written word, noting particular developments such as the addition of spaces between words to facilitate silent reading (because who needs spaces when you’re just reading letters and sounds out loud? Our ears don’t need physical spaces in order to make meaning like our eyes do) and the invention of the printing press. With the arrival of the digital age, Philips notes that there’s we experience a “disengagement between vehicle and content,” resulting in the loss of a sense of gravity that accompanies a physical collection of texts (Philips, 43).
What I found most engaging in Philips’ article was his offense at “the assumption...that a text exists as a pure essence that can be abstracted from its incarnation in a material form” (Philips, 43). He mentioned book burning and how it has been a direct affront to intellectualism (and continues to symbolize such) because the destruction of the vehicle was a destruction of the content (ibid.). Today, however, it is possible for the content to exist anywhere; the vehicle has become irrelevant, and that makes a difference.
When my car was broken into, the thief stole two things contained in that backpack: my laptop and my songwriting journal. The laptop, though a much larger monetary loss, meant very little to me (I do most of my work on google drive. I can access that content anywhere, even if the vehicle is destroyed or stolen). The theft of the journal, however, felt like a gross violation - a direct affront. I did not put those thoughts anywhere else, just like I don’t back up handwritten love letters on my harddrive. My point here is not only that we treat as sacred the things that are most vulnerable or rare or material, but that we actually only incarnate the most sacred things. Of course the feeling of violation at the theft of my journal lingered with me - what was taken from me was not mere content I could log into elsewhere, but a pen-to-paper incarnation of my most sacred thoughts.
Food for thought:
What does it say about our theology and/or our view of the Bible when we choose not to incarnate it? Does our decision to almost solely engage with the Bible digitally indicate something about the sacredness - or lack thereof - of that content to us? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
*Robin Philips, “Scripture in the Age of Google: The Digital Bible and How We Can Read it,” Touchstone (July/August 2012): 40-44