I love words. Redeem, discombobulated, aspen, cleave, grace, actually, ravel, revel, truck, maybe, and ubiquitous are a few favorites that occur to me. The word rhythm thumps with a tongue-heavy sound and complex spelling that belies its necessity in our lives. Some words like if and yes appear short and stumpy but are muscle-bound in their complexity. The word God contains a whole universe of meaning a billion books have been powerless to abridge. Words wield the power to create and destroy our lives.
Words Wield the Power to Create
In the beginning God spoke eight times and created life so wondrous theology, psychology, science, and philosophy combined have yet to adequately document and explain it. Amazingly God gave us the power to create, heal, and recreate through our words as well.
Hellen Keller is an inspiring example of the power of words. Though she remained physically blind and deaf life-long, she was able to see and hear through words Anne Sullivan taught her to feel. With Sullivan Keller touched “objects and associate[d] them with words spelled out by finger signals on her palm, to read sentences by feeling raised words on cardboard, and to make her own sentences by arranging words in a frame.”
Later Keller wrote: “I can see, and that is why I can be happy, in what you call the dark, but which to me is golden. I can see a God-made world, not a manmade world.” Words made her sight possible.
Words Work Miracles
As Sullivan and Keller experienced, words heal. We can work that miracle too. Words act on all our senses. We hear sounds in them: snake, scrabble, and seep. We smell antiseptic, ammonia, and mold. We feel sandpaper and supple. We taste salt, watermelon, and rust. And words activate our sixth sense: we imagine blackholes, brave new worlds, and things that may never exist in reality. And above all, through the Word, Jesus, we experience love, truth and reality.
Eugene H. Peterson said that because Jesus is the Word, he defines all other words.
This Thanksgiving, remember the words God and others have spoken to you to heal and recreate you. Give thanks! God calls you his beloved.
Today and everyday use your powerful words to heal and recreate others. “I love you” may be three of the most powerful words any mere mortal can ever speak.
Words Wield the Power to Destroy
But as T. S. Elliot wrote in his poem Four Quartets: Burnt Norton:
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.”
In contrast to Genesis, in the 1940s several people spoke a variation of the phrase what if? and created the Manhattan Project and our ability to destroy God’s creation. History records evil ideas embodied in words that have contorted entire cultures and eras and have wreaked more havoc than even the atomic bomb. Empire, manifest destiny, communism, mine, white supremacy, all have created mass destruction.
On a more persoanl scale, in the eleventh grade I had dropped out of high school and while I was waiting in the other room for my high school girlfriend, her father said, “Once a quitter always a quitter.”
Quitter! That word destroyed me. I struggled to prevent its prophecy from coming true and staggered under its crushing weight when it did.
Most people have a word or two that was weaponized against them. Loser, ugly, fat, stupid. Or a word that embodies the trauma they experienced. Abandonment, rape, prejudice.
God Has a Creative Word for You
But it is just like God to use words to recreate and heal us. While I was in Navy boot camp, my company commander called me into his office and said, “At ease, Scott.” I slid to parade rest, while my intestines twisted like a snake. “I’ve seen your kind before. You want to blend in, not be noticed.”
That was my way of hiding, quitting when I couldn’t escape.
“But I’ve noticed you,” he went on. “And I’ve seen your G. E. D. scores. Those are not high school drop out scores. They are college level. From now on I want to see your work on that level. Dismissed.”
From that day forward I began to grow into a new view of myself. His words created a new reality for me. It’s taken most of my life. But I’m growing.
The other day a friend asked me to describe myself. Without thinking I rattled off creative, story-teller, naturalist, poet, and pastor but quitter and stupid never came to mind. Hallelujah!
What words would you use to describe yourself? Are they words of God’s creation or words of destruction? If words like beloved, worthful, forgiven, beautiful, faithful, smart, and unique don’t come to mind, ask God to speak them. He will. But it’s up to you to listen and believe them.
Powerful Words of Advent
This coming Sunday marks the beginning of Advent, another of those loaded words. It’s a time when many Christians look back to celebrate and remember Christ’s first coming and prepare for his promised second coming. Four words are often highlighted during this season: love, peace, joy, and hope. Over the next five weeks my Sunday Psalms will be prayers written around that week’s word. And my mid-week blog will discuss that word as well. My hope is that these prayers and discussions will help us experience the adventure of living with God in this season.
P.S. I’ve found it difficult to write and publish over the last few weeks. COVID caught up with me on about October 27 and the fatigue and congestion, coughing have clung to me like an acrid odor. I am improving. I’ve returned to a limited amount of work. But it’s day by day. I’m thankful for every breath, even when they are a bit raspy.
And I’m grateful for you. Your readership is a word from God to keep writing and putting my words out there. And when you comment or email, it’s literally encouraging. I keep you in my prayers. God bless and may the holidays be sacred, holy, and happy.
For your further edification here are several prayers and blogs that may help bring sacredness to a busy time.