To redeem the season, resurrect life, rebuild our foundations and restore our souls, we must reclaim our words.
Our words matter because “Not only the entire ability to think rests on language… but language is also the crux of the misunderstanding of reason with itself.” Johann Georg Hamann
The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.
The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.
Even Jesus questioned a man calling him good, And look: Someone approaching him said, “Teacher, what good thing may I do in order that I may have the life of the Age?” And he said to him, “Why do you question me concerning the good? There is only one who is good.”
The reason why we find ourselves where we are today- lonely, sad, hopeless, angry, apathetic, confused, pursuing happiness with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength, and suffering from diet-related disease and sickness is because we have taken foundational words like love, truth, good, great, health, holiness, fear and faith and we have emptied them of everything that is right, good and true. In doing, so we have removed distinctions and leveled language.
I am not the first one to say these things and I will not be the last. It’s strange for a culture that’s already been leveled and whose public is really without distinctions can be so worried about “socialism.” Especially when our words, our language, our reasons, our opinions, our bodies, our lifestyles, the foods we eat, the technology we are addicted to, the shows we watch and the sicknesses and diseases we die from…ARE THE SAME. If you’d like a deep dive into the “leveling” Soren Kierkegaard wrote extensively on the subject in the mid 1800s, particularly in his book “The Present Age.”
Truthfully, Kierkegaard is a genius and he is incredibly hard to read but I found that Thomas Merton is repeating the same truth. (Excerpt below)
The reason words matter is because they have the power to heal or kill, build up or tear down, devastate and destroy or resurrect and restore. Words matter because we matter. Who I am is reflected in my words and my words reflect and determine who I am, how I live, how I think, what I think, how I worship, who I worship, what I do and why I do it, and all of that affects my neighbor.
Ursula Le Guin wrote, ““A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.”
Sometimes I think we need a season of silence, so we can hear what’s being said and what’s coming out of our own mouths. I had such a season and it changed me. Needless to say, it wasn’t voluntary but forced by God. Yet in the quiet, I discovered my own ignorance, arrogance and hubris, and I also discovered the difference in how the world talks and how Truth talks. Consequently, I decided to work hard at redeeming my words and changing how I used words. I took seriously the responsibility of words.
I hope you will consider creating the space to think about words. Write down the words “love. good, great and truth.” Write their definitions (not the dictionary’s definition but what you think they mean) and then start to listen how you and others use the words. I think you’ll find what Thomas Merton found.
The following is an excerpt from Thomas Merton’s book Praying the Psalms.
“To praise God!
Do we know what it means to praise? To adore? To give glory? Praise is cheap, today. Everything is praised. Soap, beer, toothpaste, clothing, mouthwash, movie stars, all the latest gadgets which are supposed to make life more comfortable—everything is constantly being “praised”. Praise is now so overdone that everybody is sick of it, and since everything is “praised” with the official hollow enthusiasm of the radio announcer, it turns out in the end that nothing is praised.
Praise has become empty. Nobody really wants to use it. Are there any superlatives left for God? They have all been wasted on foods and quack medicines. There is no word left to express our adoration of Him who alone is Holy, who alone is Lord.
So we go to Him to ask help and to get out of being punished, and to mumble that we need a better job, more money, more of the things that are praised by the advertisements. And we wonder why our prayer is so often dead—gaining its only life, borrowing its only urgency from the fact that we need these things so badly.” Thomas Merton