Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
~ Isaiah 43: 18-19 (ESV)
I’ve run across a concept in the past few weeks known as the “Great Vowel Shift.” Having googled this concept, I’ve discovered it’s a highly technical linguistic happening that occurred in the English Language from about the 1300s to the 1700s. The experts contend that the way English people pronounced their words (particularly the “long” vowels) changed. And you can experience this shift then when you read poetry from the time, or songs, or even the Bible!
Now why I find this fascinating is that it happened without anybody really making it happen. All of a sudden, people began to say “howse” instead of “hoose” for house. Some of the Great Vowel Shift occurred as populations moved after the Black Death. Some think it was because the Norman (French) kings and queens became more English than French. I’m not even going to mention how 1346–53English ended up with two words for things like cattle/cow/beef, veal/calf, venison/deer, pig/pork.
Things change. Now, a lot of people think that we can become or we can hire “change agents”—people who can manage or enact change. I haven’t done enough reading into this, but while I am sure that it can happen (c.f., the rise of mammals after asteroid destroys dinosaurs …), a complete clearing of the decks is not necessarily what people want or need when they want or need change.
This “Great Vowel Shift” demonstrates something that occurs in nature—something that God Created—evolution. Things morph, they adapt, they emerge—they are revealed. But it is rare that we can engineer change; rather, we can adapt to the change that is already happening. Last summer I read Stephen Jay Gould’s Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History and it had a profound influence on my way of seeing the world. In a blink of an eye the whole world can change: whether that’s because an asteroid hits the earth or someone we love dies. Things are meant to change. It’s how we, and everything, are created. Climate changes.
Morphology (body shape) changes. Language changes. It’s not about trying to control the change but adapting to it—about riding the wave rather than trying to stop the tide. I’ve been thinking about this not only because of the changes in the English language, but also the changes in the Church. I went to a conference, Cruxifusion 2016, where I heard about a Chinese pastor who ministers to a house church that has 10 million members—and this pastor was desiring prayer from a lowly Canadian minister. “Give me a Blessing!” The Church is changing, it is shifting. It will look very different 50 years from now than it does today. The thing is not to lament what was lost, but to seek for, to try and find what is being revealed.
There is a purpose, a reason, a plan even! I don’t pretend to know what it is. All I’ve been asked to do is to follow. And that I can do.
Psalm 23 (The Lord is My Shepherd) in Middle English (1250-1300)
Lauerd me steres, noght wante sal me:
In stede of fode þare me louked he.
He fed me ouer watre ofe fode,
Mi saule he tornes in to gode.
He led me ouer sties of rightwisenes,
For his name, swa hali es.
For, and ife .I. ga in mid schadw ofe dede,
For þou wiþ me erte iuel sal .i. noght drede;
Þi yherde, and þi stafe ofe mighte,
Þai ere me roned dai and nighte.
Þou graiþed in mi sighte borde to be,
Ogaines þas þat droued me;
The Black Death (1346-35) was a disease that spread across Europe and is estimated to have killed approximately 50 million people.