Reading: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
Later this month we will gather at the Easter Vigil, and we will hear again the story of creation. We will hear that God said, “let there be light,” and light was created. We will hear that God said, “let the land produce living creatures,” and it was so. God spoke into existence light, stars, creatures of the sea, seed-bearing plants, trees, and even humankind. Just imagine how powerful God’s speaking was, that all creation came into being because of those words.
Like the power shown in the creation story where words create any number of things, my husband, daughter, and I experienced a similar kind of word power over two decades ago. After adopting our daughter (she was 11 at the time) we engaged in a form of therapy designed to build among us the kind of attachment that a young child experiences with its birth parents. We would sit with her and tell stories of what her life would have been like if she had been born into our family. We talked our way through 11 years, literally re-creating her story, filling in the cracks, helping create that essential attachment. Again, imagine the power of words, this time in creating familial bonds.
I was at a funeral a few years ago where I experienced a different kind of word power. The words found within familiar hymns and the liturgy took me back in time, to the funerals of dear family members and friends. Grief washed over me again, making the pain of loss so very real. A friend at the funeral told me later that some of the hymns sung that day had been part of her husband’s funeral many years before. Singing those hymns took her right back to that moment in her life. Here words were creating time-travel, as it were. Such power!
I’ve heard people claim words are meaningless. “I didn’t mean anything by it,” they say after uttering cruel or hateful words. I don’t agree. Words are powerful, and they can hold both positive and negative power. The childhood rhyme “sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never break me” ignores the real power of words. Who among us doesn’t remember being called a name, either as a child or an adult? Sometimes the effect of negative words can last a lifetime.
Not only do we interact with each other through words, but through language we build and organize our knowledge. The writer Zat Rana writes that language helps create our perception of reality. In an article entitled “We are what we read,” Rana explains, “The information your senses absorb through your surroundings combine to create linguistic (and subconscious) models in your mind about how the world works and the best way to interact with it. … You are what you read. The information that you input into your mind informs your thinking patterns, and it influences your output in the form of the decisions you make, the work you produce, and the interactions you have.” Talk about the power of words!
As the Lenten season ends and we move into Holy Week and Easter, I invite you to pause and consider the power of words within your life. What do your words create? What influence do the words you read – from books to social media to advertising – have on your life? How might your words reflect your relationship with God?
Linda Post Bushkofsky serves as executive director of Women of the ELCA. A version of this devotion first appeared in the March 2018 issue of Gather magazine.