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Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Word


"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, 
and the Word was God."

So begins the first verse of the first chapter of John's Gospel. We hear it every year on the first Sunday after Christmas Day - actually, Christmas II in the lectionary.

This year, we hear it on the 10th Day of Christmas. Two days before the Feast of the Epiphany. The third day of the second decade of the third millennium.

I'm not at church today. For about the second or third time in almost 24 years of ministry, I'm taking a sick day. Stomach bug. Nothing dramatic. Just annoying. I dare not be too far from a 'facility' for too long a time.

These words from John's gospel are as old and familiar as a favorite sweater come to wrap itself round my shoulders on a cold winter's morning.

And yet, they are words heavy with the weight of mystery. Filled with thoughts foreign to the Western, logical mind.

How can the word - a word, any word - BE God?

Later on, in verse 14, John will attest that "The Word became flesh and lived among us."

Strange. Mysterious.

And yet, undeniably comfortable in their familiarity - which can dull our senses to the power of these words.

As a preacher and a writer of sorts, I am acutely aware of the power of words. When I speak or write my truth - not The Truth, but My Truth, reality as I see it - I am deeply aware that my words can bring hope and inspiration to some and pain and anger to others.

Clearly, I am not God but as a priest, I am God's re-presentative, an alter Christus, and so my words, for some, come heavily laden with deeper meaning. Or, at least, subtle innuendo. Neither of which I intend.

Words are often culture-bound and carry some time restriction. "Groovy" is as fine an example as I can think of.

When I hear Simon and Garfunkle song "Feelin' Groovy" it brings a smile to my lips - not only because it's a funky (now, there's another word) little tune, but because it recalls a time when 'groovy' was part of a parlance that separated my generation from the previous one. It gave us distinction and sent forth the word that we were not 'square'.

Which was not to be confused with 'hip'. That was another distinctive generational descriptive. Like 'far out'. You know. As in 'far out, man.'

I recently had a painful conversation with a very dear friend - I've known him since 1991 - the words of which have played over and over again in my head the past few days.

I knew he was tired. He often is. He has a complicated medical condition which requires that he take medications which often exhaust him. When he gets 'like that', he is often edgy. Challenging. It sometimes seems to me that he is contrary in argument just for the sake of argument.

Because I know him and love him and have enormous respect and admiration for his creative mind, I know to back off. To reframe his position to one that seeks a middle ground where we both can stand so as not to fall into an argument. To ask a rhetorical question that moves us from the slippery slope of contention to more stable ground of conciliation.

At some point in the conversation, I'll give in. Return his spar. Watch him duck.

I know he knows what I'm doing. I know it often frustrates him. He's scratching around for an argument and I won't give him what he wants. Which makes him even more annoyed and edgy.

And then, when I do - when I give him what he wants - he retreats, because that's not what he wants, either. Not really.

At the end of our conversation, I am often as exhausted as he is. Which may have been the point of his whole conversation in the first place. So that I will know just how exhausted he really is. How much effort it takes for him to be engaged in conversation with me when he'd rather be alone with his thoughts.

I know these things and he knows these things and yet, we never speak them to each other. There's a whole conversation under the words of our conversation that we dare not speak because the truth is too frightening to us both.

The truth is that he is not well and is scared most of the time. The truth is that I know he's not well and it scares the bejesus out of me.

So, he spars and I duck, then reverse, reverse - like an exquisite boxing ballet without gloves or shoes. No ring or dance floor. Just two old and dear friends who want very much to be together because we love each other but are terrified of the secret truth we share. Especially in those times when he's not feeling well and that secret truth becomes more painfully obvious.

"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God."

Barbara Brown Taylor is an Episcopal Priest who, a decade or so ago, was voted one of the best Christian preachers in America. In an interview, she was once asked, "Where do you see Jesus in the world today?"

Taylor answered, "I see Jesus whenever I hear someone speak his truth with such clarity that it makes me want to kill him."

"And the Word was made flesh and lived among us."

I believe it was Maya Angelou who once said that words and language are what separate us from other life forms and make us human. It's the conversations we have that deepen our human relationships. It is those conversations we have that give shape and form to our individual human identity.

It's Ubuntu - "I am because you are."

It's Martin Buber's "I and Thou."

I suppose that's why I write - every day, even when I'm not feeling well. Why I preach, even when I think I've got nothing to say but God has another idea. Why I'm so passionate about community and missing church this morning but not feeling at all guilty because I can't attend.

Words and language are neither facts nor the truth, but vehicles of them both.

Words and language form bridges of connection between us and God and each other. They help us pass over the waters of my reality - my facts, my experiences - to yours, so that together, we might discover The Truth.

Words and language are God's gift to us. We are very wise to use them carefully, so when they find their way back to God - as I believe all words do - God will be well pleased with how we have used them.

We are often the only way God has to communicate with us.

We are God's primary language in a world of Babel.

We are the living words of God - for God - and each other.

"And the word become flesh and lived among us."

6 comments:

Hungry Priest said...

"We are God's primary language in a world of Babel." I love that! And as I prepared my sermon this week I was thinking the same sort of thing - we are God's ongoing incarnation - the way the word becomes flesh in the world today. YES!

Jim said...

Prayers for healing, both for your friend and for you. Take care of yourself - hear?

FWIW
jimB

Bill said...

I’m reminded of a friend from a previous life. He is a lawyer but his love of argument goes way beyond his chosen profession. He argues just for the mental exercise. He doesn’t really care what side or what position is has to take. He will freely give you first pick of said side and proceed to argue with all the gusto of fanaticism. He also had a tendency to choose words that would intentionally hurt. It was part of his style to get you angry and lose focus. I also enjoy a good argument but unlike my friend, I have clearly defined sides. I don’t argue for the hell of it. The way I’d really get to him was to just remain quiet. Then, when he’d ask why I wasn’t joining in the discussion, I’d say I just didn’t feel like playing today. That would drive him crazy just as I knew it would, and I would win. So in the end, by using the guidelines of his profession which have nothing to do with justice but all about winning and losing, I won. In some ways I feel sorry for him because there is nothing in life he feels that strongly about to take a position on. With him, it’s always the win – loss column, and that is sad.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Love the story. I understand the story. Sometimes, when I am out of sorts, I need to pick a fight just to feel alive--and thank God for the people in my life who will fight back with me and love me anyway.

I call this the Magic of Dryer Sheets.

(in fact, I might blog on this in a bit.)

Dryer sheets are a pain in the butt b/c they stick to your clothes in the dryer. they're clingy and sort of static-y. But without them, your laundry would not smell the same and all the clothes would be static-y.

TBTG for dryer sheets!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Your "Magic Dryer Sheets". My "Divine Sand Paper." How else would the truth of us shine through unless someone 'rubbed us the wrong way'?

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Oooo...I like "Divine sandpaper," too!