Written or spoken, a word is a symbol. As an aural stimulus, or as a visual stimulus, a word represents some thing other than the sound it makes on the eardrum or the squiggles on the page.
But words are more than a system of signs. They are a means of connecting minds, a pact between sender and receiver.
|Logos: the word|
Thus, spoken and written words are actions when they are received, and create a relationship between separate minds.
Kurt Vonnegut, writer, wit, and sometime Unitarian, said that reading a book was in effect 'meditating with the mind of another' and thus one of the most intimate relationships we separate selves can ever have. In reading (or hearing--yay audiobooks!) the logos, the words, of another, we surrender to the writer, allowing him or her to restructure our inner world, to create moods, thoughts, ideas, imagery. Reading literally generates an imagined world, full of real-feeling sensations, for a time. At the beginning of the world was the word, says Genesis.
|Words allow us to connect with the mind of another|
The logos thus assumes a bond of trust. Perhaps this is why every world religion comes down hard on bearing false witness (lying)--which breaks the logos' fidelity to the truth. They also come down hard on gossip, slander, etc.--words that can wound the tender mind of the one who has given their attentiveness to read or to listen.
|So just be careful with them|
Words are actions. Words establish relationship.
In my work, I deal chiefly in logos:
I read aloud.
I dialogue one-on-one.
I discuss in groups.
|Funny when you look at them for what they are|
This full-time mental google-search reminds me of the myth of Tantalus, whose punishment was to stand neck-deep in a river under a fruit tree for eternity. Each time he bent over to drink water to slake his thirst, the water receded. Each time he reached for the fruit to fill his hungry belly, the branches of the tree lifted out of his reach.
|Searching for the logos is a lot like Tantalus...|
With apologies and respect to my comrades who would dethrone the logos and replace it with silence, the answer to the limitations of words is not to remove them from worship. There is no silent meditation in existence whose context is not framed by words ('just breathe', 'let thoughts come and go', 'imagine a big ball of warm sunlight in your stomach...'). The answer to the limitations of words is not to ladle on more words through 'open discussion', like some directionless university dorm-room bull session (which verbal soup produces a white noise of multidirectional logos, and encourages competitiveness).
The answer is there's no escape from on-going discernment around the words we use to worship. Understanding that the logos is not what it describes, but is a living word-- it can be fine-tuned, clarified, interrogated, rewritten and resaid. The Logos is not insurance form boilerplate or Apple terms and conditions. The Logos opens like the lotus and invites connection. It does not close off and regulate.
We have to start somewhere. In the beginning was the word.
So it pays to be selective about who you read, listen to, talk with. Every word creates relationship. Every word is a feeble attempt to bridge the gap of our solitudes, a leap of faith that we can make ourselves known to another and feel we are no longer completely separate selves locked in the first-person kingdom of our own skulls. Everyone uses words; not everyone uses them well. You become the words that occupy and shape your mind. Not everyone deserves to be allowed into it.
Besides Vonnegut, I have meditated rather a lot with the mind of the poet T.S. Eliot, who put the problem (rather brilliantly) like this:
“So here I am...
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate,
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate - but there is no competition -
There is only the fight to recover what has been lostAnd found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”
And so lately, when I am trying to offer comfort to one of my pastoral charges. Or when I am trying to encourage a young leader trying to get a new fellowship off the ground. Or even when I'm trying to tell my wife how utterly in love with her I am...I have to do more than be still (important though that is).
I have to bloody well say something.
Something true and kind, or at least not untrue and not unkind, something that will never be the magic spell we want it to be, wish it could be, or even expect or demand it to be.
But to keep reaching, keep discerning, and like Tantalus, accepting that the reaching is all there is.