This screen was blank just a moment ago. I could have typed any combination of thousands of words to create an image, evoke an emotion or cause confusion. Or do all three at once.
Words: constructed of letters, expressed in sounds. Words are a fascinating and tangible yet ethereal convention. They are nearly as constant as the atmosphere and almost as frequently disregarded.
I am an unabashed lover of words. I revel in their complexity, nuance, grace and power. They are mastered by few, understood by many and often overlooked by all. If ubiquity is a condition precedent to neglect, words are, of all things, most susceptible to decay. Yet, their dynamic evolution is the greatest demonstration of their eternal endurance.
We inherently understand the power of words to separate, transform, disparage and enlighten. The old expression, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me,” might be the most inaccurate assessment of language that has ever been rendered.
We know that words have the power to bring things to life. Almost every religion has a Creation story and for Christians, Jews and Muslims (and likely many others), that creation occurred when God spoke. Words.
In fantasy stories, like The Chronicles of Narnia, there is one difference (and the most exciting difference to children) between the animals in the fantasy world and the animals on earth. Do you know what it is? They speak. Words.
Witches and sorcerers use incantations and spells; a combination of potions, bat wings, frog tails, etc. But, the magic isn’t unleashed until when? They speak. Words.
We also know that words have the power bring death. I recently discussed with my children the tantalizing topic (for them, anyway) of profanity. What makes some words bad? What is it about the arrangement of certain letters that makes them inappropriate for civil discourse? Is it the letters? The sound those letters make? The attitude affixed to those letters when spoken?
To my mind, this topic is endless. Infinite. But, I digress. What is the point? The point is this: if you had a powerful tool that could be harnessed for creativity, life, beauty, and even the supernatural, what would you do with it?
Words are this tool. Yet, they are more than a tool. They are transcendent.
When we use words, we differentiate ourselves from mere animals (those on Narnia notwithstanding) and we take our place among the gods. With great power comes great responsibility. Your access to the universe of language gives you great power. The ability to read, write, speak is magnificent. Your capability for verbal communication is an obsequious benefit to your existence.
So what are you doing with this tool? Are you bringing life? Or are you profane?
An ancient Scripture reads, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21).
With your words, are you a life giver or a life taker?
We most frequently perceive of words as being a one-way communication: from speaker to audience, whether it’s one or one million. The truth is, as much as the speaker influences the audience, he also influences himself. Maybe more so, for over time, the one constant listener is the speaker himself. The expression, “He’s a man of his word,” is used to describe a person who can be trusted. I would like to expand the meaning further and declare that we are truly all people of our “words”. We make our words, and by them we are made; just like the original Creation.
So, if you’ll humor me and agree that we are men and women of our words, what are the words that make you? I would encourage you to ponder this for more than a moment. In our era of abbreviated hyperbole, it’s easy to proclaim just about anything as being “awesome”. But is that new pair of shoes genuinely awe-inspiring? Is the app on your phone really in the same league as an earthquake? As lightning? “Awesome” should be used to describe the rare extraordinary event or element that has the power to permanently, dramatically influence the present, or the future.
Awesome is the rumble of volcanoes, not the rumble of your friend’s stomach after too many french fries.
There is so much more to words than trivial expressions, yet they are used as such, and they don’t mind. They are the most ubiquitous scarcity on the planet. Irony and enigma intertwined, they are self-defining
I write because I love the power of words and I love to be transformed by them. My desire as I write is that the reader is inspired, entertained, sometimes frightened, but ultimately more interested in words than they were when they began to read my creation.
Be a reader. Be a thinker. Don’t be intimidated by your lack of practice. Begin. Slowly at first, if necessary. Stick with it. Over time, build a discipline of both ingesting and exclaiming words that bring beauty, joy, light, truth and honor to your surroundings. If we all didn’t simply entertain this notion but actually engaged in the practice of understanding and speaking with positive precision, what a powerful force we could be. For Good.
Words. Aren’t they Awesome?