Words Matter

Some of CC’s regular contributors reflect on the words that mean the most to them at the moment

“Don’t be afraid.”
Every Sunday he preaches at Jubilee Fellowship CRC, Pastor Woodrow Dixon offers God’s blessing in five parts. He begins with the lyrical “Deity go before you to lead you; God go behind you to protect you” and so on. If we aren’t out to oppose, Neal Plantinga says, those words bless us with “the enveloping presence of . . . the God of Psalm 139.”  

 
  

Pastor Woody continues, “Don’t be afraid,” moving to Numbers 6’s Aaronic blessing, followed by an emphatic, urgent repetition “And don’t be afraid,” concluding “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” 

Yes, every Sunday. 

Angels and Jesus greeted people saying, “Don’t be afraid”; God’s ambush fittingly scared those stunned hosts wordless; they needed comfort.

Today these three simple words are a necessary exhortation to live within God’s protection. As they assure us of God’s benevolent Presence, they enjoin his people, any and all people in our mean-spirited, polarized political climate not to fear immigrants, gays, refugees, Muslims, anyone of different skin tone or language – or even each other. Repeat them often. Risk not fearing. God is here.
–James Dekker

 

 

 

 

“Ponder anew what the Almighty can do. . .”
I probably sang the words of the hymn, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” many times when I was a child attending worship services at Rehoboth CRC in Bowmanville, Ontario, in the 1960s and 70s. But the song didn’t particularly strike me in any way.

 
  

Decades later in 2006, when I attended the Calvin Symposium of Worship, the Holy Spirit impressed on my heart and mind one line of Joachim Neander’s 1680 German hymn, translated into English in 1863 by Catherine Winkworth. Since then, with surprising timing, gentle prodding, and comforting reassurance, the Holy Spirit has reminded me of these centuries-old words – “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do as with his love he befriends you” (Lift Up Your Hearts, #575).

Recently, during a time of discouragement over what seemed to be several unanswered prayers, I went for a walk and was surprised to hear the words of the hymn in my mind once again. I recognized God’s “eternal encouragement” (2 Thess. 2:16). The next day, I was shopping at Mission Thrift Store and heard the words sung over the loudspeaker. I smiled a prayer of gratitude and pondered what God would do next in my life with his friendship.

God has acted. He will act. Prayers are being answered.
–Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

 

 

 

 

“. . . there is in all the things of earth a hidden glory.”
“When, however, we learn in Christ the nature of our first estate, and the divine destiny to which we are called, we begin to see – more clearly the more we are able to look upon the world with the eye of charity – that there is in all the things of earth a hidden glory

 
  

waiting to be revealed, more radiant than a million suns, more beautiful than the most generous imagination or most ardent desire can now conceive.”

In The Doors of the Sea, theologian David Bentley Hart tackles the questions that horrible, wasteful suffering presses on us, and yet still, in the end, gives testimony to the theatre of glory that surrounds us. His rhetorical flourishes lend to my faith a credibility and confidence that it sorely needs on some of the more dreary, disenchanted days living in increasingly secular Canada. 
–Peter Schuurman

 

 

 

“Look, just as time isn’t inside clocks, 
Love isn’t inside bodies 
Bodies only tell the love.” 
-Yehuda Amichai 

I found this quote as an epigraph to a novel called The Ghost Notebooks by Ben Dolnick, which unfolds as a tragic saga of untimely death, haunted houses and yearning for reincarnation. For me, this resonates with the fact that all of us try to mark the intangible with signs demarcating small, essential, but still selective pieces of larger wholes that we will never fully understand. Time “exists,” in a sense, for all the bodies that experience its effects, but its parameters evolve from diurnal – the sunrise – to seasonal, to lingual, and to digital, a guise more subliminally ubiquitous than any being has yet endured. Similarly, love – that inadequate word bobbing on top of worlds of feeling – echoes in brain scans, in letters, in fireworks, in secrets, in kisses and inscriptions and graveyards and flowers and yes, in bodies – but in those bodies become vehicles for its possession and expression. As much as we think we want to be spirits, the tug of gravitational embodiment reminds us that we could not speak such truths without such lips, or hold each others’ hearts without such skins.   
–Jennie Stephenson

 

“. . . the wealth of miracles everywhere every moment.”
Brian Doyle prays like a five-year-old monastic poet. He’s as specific as a young child thanking God for grass, as skilled as a monk in talking directly to the divine and as lyrical as a poet, though he writes in prose. His Book of Uncommon Prayer (Sorin Books, 2014) is like nothing you’ve read before. In it, he thanks God for muddy paw prints, spatulas, opossums and women named Ethel; for firemen, short sermons and good bishops; for the reckless jerk who just swerved insanely across three lanes of traffic; for the person who invented socks; for Easter morning; for people whose dads left them as kids. 

Doyle died in May 2017, eight months after being diagnosed with cancer. 

“No one ever laughed more at the ocean of hilarious things in the world,” he wrote in his last prayer, “or gaped more in astonishment at the wealth of miracles everywhere every moment.” 
I read an “Absolutely Serious Prayer in Celebration of Port-A-Potties” out loud for evening devotions to a group of teenage girls at camp. It didn’t generate a lot of conversation, to be honest, but some heads did nod along: “A prayer for the health and safety and peace of those who clean and scrub, those who design and build and distribute and keep clean the machines that we all use all the time but hardly ever connect to brave holy beings. And so: Amen.” 
–Angela Reitsma Bick 

 

“the sadness such memory brings is bounded by the joy. . .”
I returned home from a cottage stay over the August long weekend to find that my cat Jules had passed away. She had been growing frail over the last year, and though she’d achieved a good number of years for a kitty, we weren’t ready. The void left in our lives was immediately palpable.

As we sat near her body that night, we spoke a prayer written by theologian Stanley Hauerwas for his cat, recorded in his memoir Hannah’s Child. It is lovely and true, composed with a depth of feeling unsullied by sentimentality. If you’ve known the grief of losing a dear pet, may it give you some good words to bring before the creator of all the small furry things that bless our lives so richly.

“Passionate Lord, by becoming one of us, you revealed your unrelenting desire to have us love you. As we were created for such love, you have made us to love your creation and through such love, such desire, learn to love you. We believe that every love we have you have given us. Tuck’s love of us, and our love of him, is a beacon, a participation, in your love of all your creation. We thank you, we sing your praise, for the wonderful life of this cat. His calm, his dignity, his courage, his humor, his needs, his patience, his always ‘being there,’ made us better, made our love of one another better, made us better love you. We will miss him. Help us not fear remembering him, confident that the sadness such memory brings is bounded by the joy that Tuck existed and, with us, is part of your glorious creation, a harbinger of your peaceable kingdom. Amen.”
–Brian Bork

 

“What does the expression water under the bridge mean? It means, like, something doesn’t matter –”
“Yeah.” 

“Is it our way of saying –”
“Does it have a connotation of the past as well?”
“‘Our past history together, while true, is not playing a part in current events between the two of us.’”
“So, in that way, is it always sort of a lie?”

The podcast Relentless Picnic – you can listen for free on Soundcloud, but the $5 a month for bonus episodes is worth it (patreon.com/relentlesspicnic) – is many things. It is, literally, a recorded conversation between three dudes. It is also a searching exploration of the texture of friendship. It’s three very smart people being profanely hilarious and insightful about everything: survivalists; the moon; Reddit ghost stories; the ineffable badness of NPR’s Marketplace; why artificial intelligence isn’t a thing. To me, most of all, it’s a show on which the hosts relentlessly interrogate language – their own, and the language of public life. 

“Is it like water under the bridge doesn’t matter, only water over the bridge matters? It’s like the opposite of a flood?”

“Are we harkening back to a time when there was no bridge?”
– Philip Christman

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