Just when you think you know everything, you discover something new to you, and you are reminded just how much information is out there. No one can know everything, nor should one want to just for the sake of humility. A few days ago I learned about rhythmocatechism by way of my holocaust research.
Rhythmocatechism is the subject of a course taught by Fr. Marcel Jousse, S.J. at the University of Paris IV otherwise known as the Sorbonne in 1939. Jousse was really an anthropologist who got involved in the study of human communication. According to a 6 November 1939 TIME magazine article about the course, this interest derived from a simple observation, “…he noticed a distinction between anthropoid and apish mimicry: children can imitate such actions as shaving or shooting without using razors or guns; but apes cannot, and do not.” I admit that I have never noticed this, but I will take Jousse’s word on it.
This observation boils down to the theory that the original language of mankind was corporeal, that is that communication was acted out most likely along with grunts and groans. This makes sense in as much as we derive a clear meaning more by gesticulation than by speech. Consider for example that we more aptly ‘get the point’ of someone’s anger if they are wagging a finger at us while screaming at us. If one were deaf, the gesticulation alone would convey the message that someone is angry with us.
Rhythmocatechism then can be said to be the acting out of the words of the Gospel. The article from TIME goes on to say, “…Jousse concluded that it was possible to reconstruct not only what Jesus said, but how He said it…” This is interesting insight for those who preach and for those who are preached to. If the Word, the Gospel, are not fully incorporated spiritually into the physical being of the preacher, his or her words are likely to fall on deaf ears. The listener can always pick up on the authenticity or lack thereof of the preacher if the body does not reveal the word.
It is no wonder then that Jesus, in his preaching, really conveyed a message to his listeners. Powerful was his rhythmocatechetical style that people could distinguish his authority over that of the scribes, “When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes (MT 7:28-29).
We are all in search of meaning. For sure, words convey meaning, but it is also true that words can only encapsulate expression (denotation) while bodily movement or eloquent gesturing conveys expressive nuance (connotation). Perhaps, this is why were are more often mesmerized by the movement of an orchestre conductor than we are awed by the predictable movement of the instrumentalist (no insult intended) however much we are stilled by the sound they make.
Our personal Bible study, I think, can be enhanced if we not not only read, but enter into the Word by imagining how it was conveyed by movement of hands, hips, eyes and brows, legs and arms. This movement can tell us a lot and suggests the very reason we are amazed at the movement and words of Jesus as he cleansed the temple area of marketers. In this particular gospel scene, are we not usually surprised by the behavior of Jesus? But if Jesus had only spoken, his righteous anger would not have been conveyed. This demonstrates Jousse’s fundamental belief that Jesus was rythmopedagogical. Jesus taught with conviction, with understanding, with authenticity, with truthfulness in both body and soul, word and in deed.