By Victoria Heard
I love words. I love how they can be strung together for sound. Onomatopoeia refers to words like grunt or drizzle: the very sounds of these words evoke their meaning. Listen to the changes of words by a brilliant wordsmith:
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came. (Gerard Manley Hopkins)
Hopkins’s sonnet is like listening to the rush of a waterfall, or like a sudden slalom downhill on a steep snowy mountain. His goal is that his reader sees each thing in creation fulfilling the purpose of the creator, whether the creator is God or a bell-founder. He then switches mid-sonnet, as sonnets do, moves from natural creation to the new creation that Christ is shaping in humanity. He picks up Shakespeare’s image of “all the world is a stage” but inverts it. God the Father watches Christ, who plays before his Father in the faces and deeds of redeemed humans.
Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
“The Word came into the world.” Words are the most powerful tools we have to shape our world and to ask God to help us reshape ourselves, just as St. John begins his gospel with the image of the Word creating creation.
Do you often watch your words, listen to your words, and listen with care to the words of others? What are the words doing? Do they shape your response, evoke your emotions, and structure your understanding of reality?
One of the most terrible things we can do is destroy words’ meanings by inverting good and evil. Political propaganda is designed to constrain how people think. But words are also the most powerful way to free people, both politically and before God: “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1).
I invite you to thank God for the words that have changed you and the good words in the world around you. I invite you to consider how to use your words wisely, with thought about what they mean and how they can go out into the world, both for good and evil. Paul says it cleanly: “Let every word you speak be drenched with grace and tempered with truth and clarity” (Gal. 4:6, TPT).
We will be judged on how we use words. The Word himself says, “I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every empty word they have spoken” (Matt. 12:36). But judgment in the Scriptures is not just condemnation, but also commendation.
The last best words I hope to hear will be those of Christ: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” If I hear them, they will be the most lovely words in the world, bridge words between this life and the next.