I have a good friend, Jim, who, like me, enjoys going on long walks. We seldom walk together, but we do talk about our solitary walks. Jim tells me that when he heads out, he takes a camera and is constantly looking for the perfect photo, the striking image. When I walk, I usually take a note-pad and am looking for the perfect word, the striking phrase. (Not surprising, I haven’t found either yet, but I enjoy the walk and the search.) Between Jim and me, I wonder if the difference as to what occupies us on our walks might explain why Jim tends to say very little and I say too much: applying that old adage, his “words” are worth a thousand of mine.
Anyways, I think a lot about words. I’m often looking for words and phrases that have a rhyme, a rhythm, and a resonance to them; that seem to bring order and sense to whatever turmoil or confusion I am experiencing, or perhaps what others are experiencing. On my better days, it often turns into a prayer:
Could you give me a poem, Lord?
Doesn’t need to be epic nor profound;
Just some way to get my thoughts unwound,
down on paper –
perhaps a bit of rhyme.
Could you give me poem, Lord,
Just one more time?
Or maybe a prayer instead?
To ease this churning, turning inside my head.
I’m worn out from groaning;
my throat is tight,
no strength to plead.
Do I wait in silence?
Will your Spirit intercede?
So many words come at and go out from us these days; we are enmeshed and overwhelmed by the accelerated communication of social media. Often the words are empty, or self-seeking and self-promoting; or worse, they are words that corrode and destroy. Where can we go for words of grace and truth; that heal, restore and strengthen? Christ points out that we need to pay attention to the source: “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person brings good things out of the good stored up in them, and the evil person brings evil things out of the evil stored up in them. But I tell you that people will have to give account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken” (Matt. 12: 34b-36). When I consider that last sentence, I can’t help but think of the careless and destructive words that are tweeted and posted, re-tweeted and re-posted, in our online culture; and wonder if it may take an eternity just to account for those words alone.
I have been reading from the book of Jeremiah lately. In chapter 1, God asked Jeremiah to speak His words to His people and to the nations. They were words meant to subvert and undermine the dominant cultural narrative of the day; words that would “uproot and tear down”, “destroy and overthrow”; but that would also “build and plant” (Jer. 1:10). All was for the purpose of calling people to repentance and restoration. Jeremiah protested that he did not know how to speak, that he was only a child. But the Lord reached out, touched him and put words in his mouth. Later, Jeremiah would say: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty” (Jer. 15:16).
Scripture tells us that when we are born into God’s family, we begin to recognize and hunger for His word. The Good Shepherd says that His sheep know His voice and follow Him (John 10). I remember as a very young child, getting separated from my father when he took me to the Red Deer fair. Alone, surrounded by strangers, sounds and smells, I heard my Dad’s whistle which meant: “I’m coming to get you”. Above all the noise and panic, that distinctive sound was this small boy’s heart’s delight.
The prophet Isaiah had a similar experience to that of Jeremiah. Isaiah cried that he was unworthy, a man of unclean lips; but through an angel, God touched his mouth. Isaiah was told that his guilt was taken away and his sin atoned for (Isa. 6: 5-7). Isaiah was able to say later: “The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He awakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught” (Isa. 50:4).
On those mornings when I go for a walk, often it is with a load on my shoulders. I am carrying some anxiety or confusion; sometimes in connection to my own circumstances and sometimes in terms of someone I know and love. I wish I could say that on every occasion, by the time I return home, that burden has been removed, and I am experiencing the peace of God that transcends all understanding (Phil. 4:6-7). I wish I could say that; but the fact is I often return still struggling with anxiety, wondering where God is and what is He doing. However, I do find it very helpful when I carry a piece of scripture with me on my walk. I chew the words, they nourish my heart and my mind, they sustain my weary soul; and occasionally God gives me opportunity to share that meal with others.
As I said at the beginning, I think a lot about words, and sometimes I wonder what the conversation must have been like when God walked and talked in the garden with Adam and Eve. It is beyond my imagination as to what conversation will be once creation is restored; but for now we can get some glimpse when we consider the One who is Himself called the Word, coming “from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). As believers, we carry the life of Christ in us, His word is meant to dwell in us richly; and out of the overflow of our hearts, we can speak words that restore, heal, sustain and build up.
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer” (Ps. 19:14)