the fierce power of words

When Gail was in the writing center this morning, she told me that a good friend of hers (a young friend at age 57) had had a heart attack, was now in a coma, and was not expected to live. She said she (Gail) was one of those people who believes in the power of speaking your will into the universe, the power of words to make things happen. So she said that when she remembered her friend’s husband saying to her something like, “Oh, you’re going to die of a heart attack, anyway!” (or something like that), she felt pretty frustrated and angry at him.

I told her I’d hesitate to put that much responsibility on individuals for the outcome of specific events, especially the mysterious ones like illness, weather, and other sudden tragedies. But I do agree wholeheartedly that words are seeds (whether of violence, of peace, of whatever).

Dodie’s had her English 101 class this quarter read The Laramie Project, and I especially appreciated the part where Father Roger Schmit says, “You think violence is what they did to Matthew – they did do violence to Matthew – but you know, every time that you are called a fag, or you are called a you know, a lez or whatever…” “Or a dyke.” “Dyke, yeah, dyke. Do you realize that is violence? That is the seed of violence” (Act II, “Two Queers and a Catholic Priest”).

One of the days we discussed the play in class, I said that I appreciated Father Schmit’s voice the most and that his words reminded me of Jesus when he says that calling another person “fool” will get your condemned as fast as murdering someone will (Mt 5:22). Dodie added, “Words are powerful.” Yes, and they’re on a continuum – words all the way to violence. It’s all violence, whether you say something cruel to a person or do something cruel to her.

I should’ve added, but I don’t know how many of the students even knew what I was referring to – I shouldn’t assume like I do that most people have basic bible literacy… Anyway, I should’ve added that if Jesus says judgment will fall on someone who calls another person “fool,” how much heavier will the judgment be if someone calls another person a hateful term like “faggot” or says “You’re going to hell!” or “God hates you!”!?!?

Reminds me of how Jesus says “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” He’s talking about words. He uses the verbs “bless” and “pray” both of which are commands to use words to enrich and build up other people, use words to heal and build community, not to tear down. I think we often forget that “bless” means basically “say good things about” and “curse” means basically “say bad things about.” We’re used to asking God to bless us, and so we’re used to thinking of blessing as an infusion of spiritual well-being, as something more akin to a liquid or a force than to plain ol’ words. And it is (it can be!). But that jolt of well-being starts out as words, just words. Words create.

Like Bill Tammeaus says about the creation of the universe: “There is no picture here of God in a laboratory conjuring up particles and waves to produce light. No, God uses only words.”

God is somehow intimately related to words, to expression, to knowledge and communication: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Word = logos = expression, word, thought, meaning, etc)

Powerful things, words.


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