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.


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