Prepositions matter

Published 10:17 am Wednesday, December 21, 2022

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Sometimes, when I check in on social media, particularly Facebook, I almost have to steel myself to read and respond to posts that are outpourings of grief. 


We are living in a society that overwhelmingly shares its triumphs and grief out loud—and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, however, it does seem as though an awful lot of people are straining to be heard. Especially this Christmas.

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“Prayer warriors, please pray for my sister who was admitted to the hospital last night…”


“Our beloved family dog crossed the Rainbow Bridge this morning, we are devastated…”


“This will be our first Christmas without my father, I don’t even feel like decorating…”


It feels so hollow and trite to post a ‘so sorry’ reply or an absurd little emoji looking sad with one tear trickling.


This is the one time of the year that being in a stable in the wee hours of the morning brings me closer to Christmas. There’s no manger—we use hay nets, but you get the idea. And while I tick off each chore, podcasts and TED talks often keep me company. But last Sunday I listened to the newly appointed Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, Dr. David Monteith, give his sermon.

It was so simple, so sparse, and hit me right between the eyes, the way things that seem meant for you to see or hear often do.


In his succinct delivery, Reverend Monteith asked to consider ‘what we are trying to do in working for’ someone, and ‘who do we stand for?’ Also, ‘what do we learn about ourselves when we contemplate working ‘with’ or being ‘with’ rather than working ‘for’ or ‘being for?’ I was then reminded that not only is the Gospel of Matthew bookended with a ‘with’ in the first chapter of the Gospel of St Matthew– the visitation upon Mary and the promise that God will come to be with us in Jesus, God Emmanuel— but also in the final chapter, the promise that, even until the end of time, Jesus will remain with us…’ 


Or, as the poet, Dan Flynn, puts it: 


‘Prepositions precede phrases launched by in, or on or to,


They may seem insignificant without a closer view


Which leads me to my thesis that one of them is divine,


‘With’ is the word without which, a Savior wouldn’t shine.


’So sorry’ and sad emojis are, I think, are an attempt to be ‘with’ someone in their trouble. At a comfortable, and, dare I say, convenient, distance. I’m as guilty as anyone at that. I’m also inspired by Dr. Monteith’s observation: “Who do we need to be with this day? These festive days?”


“Who are we avoiding being with?”