Punctuation in Public Worship: The Semiotic Language Within Our Liturgies

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date

Spring 5-5-2015

Scholarship Domain(s)

Scholarship of Discovery, Scholarship of Interdisciplinary Integration, Scholarship of Community Application, Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Scholarship of Faith Integration


Commas can splice our sentences, and shift their connotations. Our mixed modes for hyphens compound our words as well as confuse them—even dash them to pieces. In written language, how can we know we are asking a question unless we use the proper punctuation? Punctuation is vital to how we communicate. Whether in speech or prose, we punctuate our thoughts. In this sense, we may classify punctuation among what John Wesley calls “God’s many providences” in the sermon “The One Thing Needful” (1733): “designed either to wean us from what is not, or to unite us to what is worthy of our affection. Are they pleasing? Then they are designed to lift up our hearts to the Parent of all good. Are they painful?” Wesley again answers rhetorically, “Then they are means of rooting out those passions that forcibly withhold us from [God]” (§II.4). Indeed, punctuation espouses varied ‘pleasing’ and/or ‘pleasant’ responses.

By now you are either bored, hurt, or elated that I have brought up punctuation as a subject within philosophical God-talk at all (or at least my use of the serial comma in doing so). Beyond merely forcing the point that our punctuation carries meaning—either in addition to or against that which we otherwise intend—I want to suggest that the poetry, prose, and other linguistic media/mediums within our liturgies innately possess meaning(s) which we have the opportunity to punctuate (i.e., ‘sanctify’) as faith communities or else surrender to the individualisms of our so-called (post)modern preferential interpretations: our proverbial run-on sentence protracting philosophical discussions amid this (in)definite period of change we acutely sense but struggle to describe. We are not God’s grammar police. For our part, however, faith communities and their leaders can and must more dutifully approach the task of shaping the nature, meaning, and purpose of our liturgies as worship, not as mere collections of thoughts, words, and actions.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License.