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The weight of words

October 15, 2013 — Leave a comment

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“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.” Markus Zusak

Words are powerful. So often it’s what people say to us that lingers in our minds, nagging away at us and chipping away our confidence. We’ve all been on the receiving end of a cutting comment or an unintentionally upsetting remark – and the chances are, we’ve made a few of those comments ourselves. Words have power.

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The Hebrew language has a depth which our tongue can only dream of. There are seven words to describe love, with the three most commonly used drawing distinctions between friendship (raya), intimacy (dod) and commitment (ahava). This allows for intentional use of words to define a situation.

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the words we use to define and describe our faith; the language we use when discussing our relationships with Jesus.

In the course of my day I can say I love Jesus, the sun, the West Wing, kiwi fruits and the book I’m reading. I can also hate tube delays, chocolate ice cream and the way a national news story is portrayed by the media.

Two words – love and hate – that we apply to countless situations, to the point where there is a danger they lose their meaning. Do I love God the same way I love kiwi fruits? No. Do I hate injustice the same way I hate chocolate ice cream? No.

Yet the limitations of language mean the lines are blurred.

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The question is, does it really matter? Because truth be told, it seems unlikely a whole generation will be able to change the language they use to describe their feelings. Individually, I may be able to adjust what I say, but it will not make much impact on others.

Or will it?

You only have to spend a short amount of time in a group of people to notice certain phrases repeated again and again. Within a small, intentional group, language crosses the boundaries of our own tongues. What we say gets picked up. Repeated. Embedded. Accepted.

So maybe we do need to adjust our language. We cannot create a new set of words overnight, but we can adjust our intention and think about what we say, and how we say it. We can reserve reverence for the things that matter, and disdain for the things that deserve it.

It may not change the world, but it may just begin to change, in a small way, how we talk about God.

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”┬áRudyard Kipling