TOWER OF BABEL
When I was in high school, we were required to prepare a deck of vocabulary words. On the 3 by 5 cards we wrote a word on the front and the definition of the word on the back.
These cards we carried with us to study new words and to make them a part of our vocabulary.
As adults our stacks of vocabulary cards kept growing as got into jobs, marriage or moved into college and perhaps into graduate school.
My husband and I married as teen agers, and raised seven children. I finally graduated from college after our children were grown and went to Seminar
y and earned a Master of Divinity degree as a middle aged widow.
Those of us who enrolled at Candler School of Theology (Emory University) remember our first class when Dr. William Mallard said, “When you go home today and you are asked
what you learned in seminary you can say, 'uh Hermeneutics.’" So we added “hermeneutics” without the “uh” (as well as other theological words ) to our vocabulary. Mallard defined " hermeneutics"as “the science of the interpretation of Scripture or method of exegesis.”
Let us imagine each word in our vocabulary… is on a 3 by 5 card and the cards are stacked in rows on a table. As we write and/or as we speak…even as I am now writing…words are selected and combinations of words are used…to communicate…to convince…to tell a story…to relay a message.
All the words in our English language use only 26 letters. Everything we need to know…all the words used to express all meaning can be said or written using only 26 letters. Yet it takes a thick dictionary to hold them all.
And we are sometimes speechless. We are often inadequate when it comes to selecting the right combination of words and putting the words together to really communicate with one another.
I suppose all of us who have an interest in writing or speaking or in any communication, struggle with finding the right word…the correct combination of words…and with putting meaning into ”words.”
If we are a writer or a teacher, or a minister, in one sense, “words are the tools of our trade." Churchill said, “short words are best and old words are best of all.” It was said of Churchill, “He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”
Recently I had occasion to go to Fort McPherson. I stopped at the gate to get a pass. Two young soldiers, a man and a woman were in the gatehouse. They were talking loudly in sounds that sounded like serious argument. The young man came over to see my drivers license. As he was filling out my pass, I decided to ask about it. I asked if they were fighting or just clowning around. He said,“Oh we were just talking.” Just taking?
It got me to thinking about language…words…rhetoric.
Which comes first, language or thoughts?
Do words form or belief systems or do concepts?
Do concepts (from the depths of our subconscious)
give birth to our language…our rhetoric.
Words! In these few minutes…as I have been writing, I have taken a stack of words…short words…old words…words that tend variety…and arranged them as prose.
Prose is words which tend toward variety.
Poetry or verse in our culture is words arranged with repetition in their accent rhythm and which tend toward uniformity rather than variety.
The value of poetry is not confined to what is said. Equally as important is the language used …the words! Not just the meaning but being “surrounded by the words.”
In the Old Testament book of Ruth, we might say "Ruth was homesick. It is not the same as saying with Keats, “She stood in tears amid the alien corn”.
We might say “the surise was beautiful” but we catch our breath when Emily Dickinson
wrote, “I’ll tell you how the sun rose…A ribbon at a time.”
I close this meditation with some words, some theology vocabulary words…arranged as verse. And I suppose it goes back to our society being inundated with words.
The prophets of old came generation after generation with words about God and many did not "get it." The first verse in the book of John tells us one day in the city of Bethlehem "the Word was made flesh" and came among us and "we beheld his glory."
Could it be so often “what we are a building” is not a brave new world but a
Tower of Babel .
I pile my poetry words…Up high
And stand and gaze …Up to the sky.
And higher…High as eye can see
The “cutting edge.”…Plurality.
Then add “Process Theology”
I clap my hands… My words have power,
I dance around…My poetry tower.
Confusion…Babel tumbles down.
My words lie silent…On the ground.
And kneeling there…in wordless loss,
I find the”WORD”..Beneath a cross!
by Ruth Baird Shaw (copyright 1987)