The Care of Words

words-1Words are a bit cheaper when we're trying to find ways to use less of them, and use less of them more often. I guess I'm a romantic about words - I still like well-written novels, phrases that charm and challenge and create new things. In other words, PBS and NPR.

Some might say that makes me a snob, an elitist, arrogant and intellectually conceited. Yes, I am that more often than I would like to be.

Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.

Yet there is a place for words - good words, holy and rich words that stir senses and heat up the chambers of our heart...

I love you.

You are forgiven.

You hurt me.

Thank you.

I will never leave you or forsake you.

Be strong and courageous.

The über-creative Yahweh shaped the world with syllables and vowels, not shovels and spades, speaking goodness into being where the words became realities hard enough to build a home on.

The compassionate, passionate, and clear-eyed Son of God - Jesus of Nazareth - spoke forgiveness over guilt, righteousness over hypocrisy, love over hate...

And it was so. Every single time it became so.

Formation into Christlikeness begs us to take care of words. If we are going to become like Jesus, it may well enough begin in how well we care for what comes out of our mouths or through our keypads or keyboards.

We must invoke the spiritual discipline of "delete."

We must learn to take a breath, count to ten, and speak the good instead of the impulsive.

We need to learn that being in the image of God means our words create things too, but having been separated from Eden our words create good and evil. Our words have consequences and create tidal waves that sometimes cannot be stopped.

Our prayers, whether wordless, written, or spoken out loud are creative acts. We are asking God to make something that "is not" into something that "is" and we are waiting on Him to create a new word of hope or joy or encouragement in us as we sit in the dirt before Him.

One exercise that may help us is to start a word journal - at the end of each day, think back about the words we used. How many times did we say "thank you"? How many times did we use the word "mine"? How many times did we speak when we felt, at the core of our being, that we should simply be quiet and listen?

Another exercise is to reclaim the habit of reading novels - good novels, that is - such as "The Brothers Karamazov" or Wendell Berry's beautiful story "Hannah Coulter." Flannery O'Connor's true-to-life coming to faith story "Wise Blood" is also helpful. When we put ourselves in the presence of those who use words carefully, we learn to listen and see words-in-the-act-of-creation and as a result we're tuned in to the God who creatively speaks every day into the world in which we live.