Today’s guest blogger, Joe McHugh, is a spiritual director, retreat leader, teacher, and writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the National Catholic Reporter. His book, Startled by God: Wisdom from Unexpected Places, will be published by Franciscan Media in October 2013. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My mom’s high school graduation gift to me was a copy of The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. “Study this,” she told me, “and you’ll learn how to write.” Whether I ever learned how to write is still in dispute, but ever since she gave me that little book, I’ve studied it, taught it, and still regularly consult it.
“Use the active voice,” Strunk advises would-be writers. “The active voice is usually more direct than the passive.”
OK, quick grammar review. The subject of the sentence does something in the active voice: Ted read the Bible. But in the passive voice, the subject is acted upon: The Bible was read by Ted. As a tribute to Strunk’s influence, as soon as I typed this last sentence, Microsoft’s grammar police screamed at me by revising it to read, “Ted read the Bible.”
I’m afraid far too many of us—myself included—live and believe in the passive voice. I’m not talking about the action and passivity, giving and receiving, and action and contemplation that lie at the heart of all healthy relationships with others and with God. These are patterns of engagement.
Living in the passive voice is a fear-induced pattern of disengagement from life: just letting things happen to us, refusing to engage our personal power to make decisions and partner with God to let new life flourish.