Thursday, August 04, 2005

Words! Words! Words!

This morning I picked up my son’s Stanford Achievement Test results from last year (6th grade). As expected, his scores were above average and across the board he rated a grade equivalent of 2 to 4 grades higher than his actual grade level. What stood out most to me were his scores in language: above average, Post High-School grade equivalent! Reading comprehension, vocabulary, and spelling were all above average also. Unfortunately, he has been exercising his language skills in endless battles of the will (or more accurately, the “Won’t!”) whenever he is confronted.

I feel as though I have been inundated by a torrent of words. The world of words over the internet has overwhelmed me and overstimulated my senses. From blog-surfing to downloading streaming video to checking three different e-mail accounts to reading web tutorials, my little brain is “fried”.

While paging through a little booklet I found, I opened to a chapter entitled, “Our Wordy World.” The following is an excerpt from “The Way of the Heart” (©1981) by Henri J.M. Nouwen:
Wherever we go we are surrounded by words. Words softly whispered, loudly proclaimed, or angrily screamed; words spoken, recited, or sung; words on records, [CD, DVD, I-POD, etc.], in books, on walls, or in the sky [or computer monitor]; words in many sounds, many colors, or many forms… words which flicker off and on, move slowly, dance, jump, or wiggle. Words! Words! Words!

In such a world who can maintain respect for words? All this is to suggest that words, my own included, have lost their creative power. [Mine, too!] Their limitless multiplication has made us lose confidence in words and caused us to think, more often than not, “They are just words.”

Teachers speak to students for six, twelve, eighteen years—but the students often emerge from the experience with the feeling, “They were just words.” Preachers preach their sermons week after week and year after year—but their parishioners remain the same, and often think “They are just words.” From politicians to popes, with speeches and statements, words are ushered forth to hearers who do not listen.* “They are just words,” they say, “Just another distraction.”

Often it seems that we who study or teach theology find ourselves entangled in such a complex network of discussions, debates, and arguments about God and “God-issues” that a simple conversation with God or a simple presence to God [in solitude] has become practically impossible. Our heightened verbal ability, which enables us to make many distinctions, has sometimes become a poor substitute for a single-minded commitment to the WORD, Who is Life.

When our words are no longer a reflection of the Divine WORD, they become as meaningless and misleading as the words used to sell Geritol [or Pepto-Bismol].

There was a time when the obvious milieu for theological education was the monastery. There words were born out of silence and could lead one deeper into silence. The Word of God is born out of the eternal silence of God, and it is to this WORD out of silence that we want to be witnesses.

The writers of classics like the excerpt above, such as “Practicing the Presence of God,” and the “Celebration of Discipline” have learned a secret: solitude and meditation are disciplines to be learned and practiced.

Think for a moment: when was the last time you were “shut in with God, in a secret place,” practicing and cherishing the rare gift of silence?

Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10


  1. That was really interesting. I have been thinking lately about the simplicity of words in writing and speech. Sometimes it is just better to say, "She died" than to say, "Her last breath came like the gentle whisper of the wind - here one minute and gone the next."
    Technical and flowery phrases lose so much of the meaning. Jesus used very simple language to encompass great wisdom. Maybe if we all tried more simplicity we wouldn't be so overwhelmed.

  2. Remember the rest of that verse. "...I will be exalted among the nations, I will exalted in the earth."

    When one goes to God in that stillness and 'knows' Him there, one cannot help but come to the point of exalting Him. God knows that. He says He will be.

    Worship of Him, for me, comes in stillness because I don't believe God wants the competition of outside interferences. Thanks for this.