Tuesday, November 29
Words are funny things. I can say one thing and mean another. I can mean one thing and say another. I can say exactly what I mean, and still be misunderstood. Words have the ability to create and destroy, to demonstrate strength and weakness, to build up and tear down. One solitary word can change the meaning of an entire phrase. Even as a young child, I knew the power of "please." The presence or mistakable absence of that one word meant a world of difference in my household.
We celebrate first words and commemorate last words. Books are written about famous last words. Replace just one word in the inspirational "I Have a Dream" speech of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the complete sentiment changes. "I Have a Thought" does not carry quite the same weight. We are surrounded by people of very few words as well as those who never seem to run out. Some treat them as gift, others take them for granted. Psychologists play word association games and use them as learning tools. Bullies play mind games and use them as weapons of hatred. We all use words...to fill space, to mask silence, to express feelings, to hide feelings, to fill emptiness, and to keep lies alive. Sometimes, all these words are enough, but so many times they are not. Words can fail us. And so often do.
In her memoir Rowing Without Oars, Ulla-Carin Lindquist offers testimony to the meagerness of words and in the midst of her journey through ALS she discovers, "When there are no more words, only the truth remains." Somewhere amid our shuffling and jumbling of letters, our awkward dance of stumbling around symbols of meaning, the truth still lingers.
Is it any wonder when the fourth Gospel writer was looking for a symbol to represent Christ that he chose the Word? With its multiplicity of meanings and diversity of nuances, John attempted to express the greatest truth the world has known as "Word." And yet, it was still not quite enough. For not even God could find a better way to overcome the inadequacy of words than to have God's Word become flesh. When the Word finally comes to us incarnate, there the truth exists. God took the Word one step further, or a giant leap rather, to peel away the falsities of words and allow only the truth to remain. Advent season celebrates that monumental leap, a leap away from faux exteriors and empty expressions towards the ultimate truth.
Words are funny things. They are instruments of blessing and cursing. And they can almost get us to the truth, but not quite. In order to find true meaning, we must take an extra step forward as demonstrated by God through Christ. So this Advent season, what colloquial phrase or overused expression, what word that may seem insignificant to you needs that extra boost to push it into the next realm of meaning...the world of truth? How might we reenact the "Word become flesh" to make our words resemble real truth in this world and during this season?
- Lauren Colwell