Sunday, November 22, 2015

I Dare You

This is one of those moment where I feel in myself the potential to write something profound, but I'm not sure if it will come out that way.

In church last week, we had to write on a sheet something we were thankful for. Easiest task in a long time: I wrote "words."

This week at church, we had a time of prayer where everyone was supposed to call to God by one of his names. I didn't say anything out loud, but the same thing leapt to my mind. My tongue silently traced the word inside my mouth: "The Word. You are the Word."

I know I've written about this before, about how in the beginning there were only God's words, and from them came...well, absolutely everything. I know God--though unchanging--is many different things to many different people; I know that he meets us all where we are, and maybe I am just constantly in the words, but it just seems to me that Words are the single most important thing in the entire world.

I know that Love is important, and Compassion and Peace and Forgiveness, but what would those things be without words? What would Love be if we couldn't say "I love you," or "I miss you," or "You look beautiful"? What would Compassion be if we couldn't say "I am so sorry for your loss," or "Would you like to talk about it?" or "Please help me"? What would Peace be without hearing "Everything will be okay," or "Yes, I agree to those terms," or "I'm here now"? What would Forgiveness be without "I'm sorry," "I forgive you," "I understand now"?

Sure, actions speak louder than words, but we know actions by their words. The difference between "hugging" and "restraining" someone is not so much in the action, but in its name, in the intent behind the gesture, a meaning we dictate and understand through language. Tears come from happiness and sadness both, but happy tears stream through a smile, and a smile signifies happiness only because we know the word "happiness."

Everything has a name, which is what gives it meaning. We name our towns, our pets, our children. We name our body parts, our moods, our possessions. We agree to things by saying Yes; we object to things by saying No. We explain ourselves in letters, essays, text messages, songs.

We express things in art and music as well, but they have "messages." They communicate Words to us, through colors or sound. We say a piece of music "speaks" to us; it makes us feel empowered or sad or pensive or inspired or exhilarated. The piece might be too complicated for words, but we try, because otherwise the meaning evaporates. There is nothing so frustrating as hearing something too beautiful to translate into language. We have to try, or we can't quite share it--with others or even with ourselves.

If I want to show you my new house, I might point at the building, but your mind processes and organizes the sight with words:  "It's a house. It has windows and doors and a wrap-around porch. I love what they've done with the yard. And look at those barn wood shutters!" Without words, what would you think? How would you even know what you were seeing? Without names for the impressions of the world, we would live in blind chaos, not even able to articulate our confusion and longing for order.

We have national anthems to promote patriotism.
We have names to call each other.
The Berlin Wall fell with words:  "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall."
Rosa Parks expressed her freedom with a word:  "No."
We detest liars; we crave truth.
Famous dictators and famous prophets alike make speeches to win followers.
Words are the most powerful--and arguably the only--tools of persuasion.
Companies use mottoes; politicians use slogans.
We use words to exchange marriage vows and write treaties.
We give our word in promises.
We ask "how do you feel?" and then expect a verbal explanation.
In court, we convict and acquit with words:  "Guilty." "Innocent."

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Of all the things in all the world, God chose Words as the first synonym for himself. The powers to convict or acquit, commune or deny, praise or scorn, love or dismiss, all lie within in God himself; all lie within Words. In giving us the power of language, God has given us a part of his very self. Who knows what God looks like, but we were made in His image because we were made from Words, and we exist on them daily just as God lives on Words, lives on Himself.

If Words are not the absolute foundation of existence, the most beautiful and precious and powerful thing on earth, then what is? I dare you to find it and convince me without them.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

If You Have No Internal Crises, Is It Really Senior Year?

I had a small breakdown today.

My roommate and I went to see the play "Anne of Green Gables" this afternoon. I LOVED those movies as a kid. We have the entire movie series on VHS and I think I can probably still quote whole sections even though I haven't seen them in years.

Actually, before the play, I hadn't even THOUGHT about the story lately: the story of a little orphan girl with an unparalleled imagination, a big mouth, and dreams of authorship. I forgot how much Anne felt like childhood, felt like a legitimate part of MY identity, felt like home. Anne found a home in Green Gables, and I found my home today in her.

Suddenly I remembered how inspired I would get when I watched movies set in "olden days." I would start getting up at 7am and making my bed and eating an "old-fashioned" breakfasts and doing my chores right away and trying to wear dresses. I would make vows like ones Anne would make, about being a more conscientious person. I would try to be Polite and Well-Mannered and Hospitable.

Then my stomach started to sink with the startling realization that I am sort of grown up. There will not ever be another time when I can wake up and reinvent myself while my mom actually keeps my real life spinning. I actually DO have to get up at 7am and do my chores, because no one else is going to do them for me. I can't just lose myself in whatever pretend game I want anymore. I have to live my own, actual, real life.

And then--at the time it somehow seemed directly related to the above--I got really homesick. Lately I've been plagued by a gnawing feeling of homelessness. The couch and chair in my apartment living room are SINFULLY uncomfortable (the arms are bony, the leather seats stick to your skin, and the cushions come out the moment your butt touches them). My room is always messy because 1) it's small and 2) I never have the time or energy to keep it neat. Our kitchen sink is too shallow to wash dishes in and we don't have enough counter space to cook real food comfortably. My apartment does not feel like home.

But Gabe's dorm is even worse. He's in your typical freshman dorm:  roommate, cinder block walls, loud AC unit, muggy as heck (the dehumidifier they just bought collects TWO GALLONS of water a day), and his bed is all the way lofted. You cannot sit up in bed at all. You're like 18 inches from the ceiling. It is like living in a prison cell. A humid, humid prison cell.

So, naturally, Home--my parents' house--is where my mind wistfully wandered.

Except that "Home" doesn't feel right anymore either. It has actually just started to feel like "my parents' house." Sure, it's familiar and the couch is comfy and the sink is deep and the counter space is fantastic and Mom's cooking is delicious and my room is clean (mostly because I don't live there anymore) and I can sit up in my bed, but...I don't know. It doesn't feel like a place where my soul is relaxed and snuggled up in a blanket anymore. It feels a little bit empty.

Although I'd give anything to be there now, of course. I really miss my family. I miss Mom's cooking and our inside jokes and her just "GETTING" me. I miss hearing Daddy's newest philosophical and political insights and going to the antique store with him and letting him show me his latest woodworking project. I haven't seen my sister in...a really long time. I miss her being there.

But anyway. "Anne of Green Gables" made my heart and my throat ache with homesickness. And then my brain engaged and snorted at me:  Homesick? For where? Where is your home? And I didn't even know what to say.

My parents' house isn't Home anymore, and yet, I can't imagine feeling at home without my parents. This whole semester I've been excited to graduate and make my own "home": an apartment with all my books and my clothes and kitchen utensils where I cook food and watch TV and sleep and live real life. I've been so ready and so excited to make my own home.

But now I'm afraid that nowhere will ever feel like home, that I am incapable of creating "Home" by myself. I don't know how to do that. I'm afraid I'll always be a little homesick.

And I just started crying, right there in the play, right there in the dark theater house.

I'm not crying anymore, but I do feel lost and confused. What does Home really mean, anyway? Where Gabe is? Where my books are? Where the damn couch cushions don't scoot out?

If I ever figure it out, I'm sure I'll let you know.