I love words. I’m a word guy. I enjoy reading them, writing them and pondering them. I can get lost in them and be quite content spending time with a well crafted collection of them. But I’ve noticed something lately about words.
They seem to be losing their value.
They don’t seem to cost as much as they use to.
In fact any more they are just plain cheap. Consequently they are apt to be tossed about carelessly, aimlessly and purposelessly. Spoken words as well as written words. Whispered words as well as shouted words. Defensive words as well as offensive words.
Containing little in the way of thoughtful gravity, words are loosely sprayed about in our politics, our relationships, our opinions, our theology, and wherever we have a stake in the points being made.
Cheap Words Multiply Quickly
One characteristic of cheap words is that they multiply quickly, as if by sheer volume injustices will be made right, errors will be made correct, and our very next point will put an end to the foibles of humanity.
Yet cheap words never do. If anything they multiply those foibles. We traffic a lot of words but not much redemptive impact.
I love our country for the freedom to exercise as many words as we feel. But that does not imply there is wisdom in using them as we please. While we may think more words will change circumstances, incite justice or mitigate rancor. They usually do quite the opposite.
Formed Out of Silence
Of course words can have tremendous value. I believe they can change the world. Just not off the shelf.
Words that are truly transformative take time to form. They require an investment of thought, truth and testing. They are best held onto until which time they can be delivered in the right spirit in the right way at the right times.
Most redemptive words have their origins in silence. What makes those words so powerful is often the silence that surrounds them. Only when we return to a civility in our public and private discourse, and stop using cheap words will we discover that for ourselves.
When the Mouth of God was Silent
That’s why there is something particularly striking about the Christmas season. When Christ was born, as an infant he couldn’t talk. He was silent.
He made no words, shaped no opinions, hurled no rhetoric, nor drove home any points. Yet he carried the very presence of God.
The Advent season is a reminder of the power of silence. The profound impact that occurred when no words were spoken. Without so much as a syllable uttered He brought a new order of life.
Silent Night Holy Night
Nowhere is this expressed so poignantly as the hymn Silent Night Holy Night. The title itself conveys the order of God’s most transforming work.
Silence precedes holiness.
Because what made the night silent was the Presence of God without the cheap words of man.
I wonder what would happen if we limited our words as God did?
What if we stopped trying to use our political brands to enlist our spiritual relationships and remembered ‘neighbor’ can merely describe the person next to us whether on Facebook or the freeway?
What if we learned how to hold someone’s story with an accepting presence as opposed to feeling the impulse to correct them and convict them of what to us are their obvious wrongs?
What if we stopped trying to set people straight and instead sat them beside us, including them in our lives not because they deserved it but because presence speaks more powerfully than words alone?
What if we stopped reacting when our sensitivities are offended and instead allowed that pain and tension to create silence to truly listen regardless of if we are immediately heard?
What if we removed the cloak of anonymity from all our words – whether trafficked through gossip or protest – and instead of put downs we had sit downs, not to prove our points but to simply extend our presence in regard for the other?
What if we used our presence to encourage before we used our words to convince?
I wonder if there might not be more wonder, more hope, more connection, more creativity, more options, more understanding, and more redemptive potential in the world. The spirit of Christmas might endure the month and enter the year with the power of unspoken grace and truth. The value of words themselves might even increase in the world market of ideas.
But even more so, the voice of the One we Celebrate at Christmas might be heard beyond the Advent.
It was the silence of God that ushered in the Presence of Christ.
The still small voice incarnate as a tiny silent mouth.
Magnificently remembered. Wondrously unforgettable.
Even though His words had yet to begin.
On that day the mouth of God was silent.
Yet the world was forever changed.