Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What Beauty, Language

Ever since I can remember, I have loved words. I can't recall the exact moment when the shapes on the page began to make sense to me and became decipherable language, but I clearly remember sitting in my reading group in first grade at the Episcopal Day School, waiting impatiently for the slower readers to stumble over their portion of our text, (Dick and Jane, of course); reading ahead to pass the time until my turn arrived. Books were wonderfully magical, and I devoured them as fast as I could. Through these portals I was able to visit far lands and different times. From a sweltering courtroom in Maycomb County, Alabama, to flying across the finish line on the back of the wild Black Stallion, the adventures possible through books were limited only by the time available to read them.

Certain books still stand out to me. One Sunday morning when I was a child in Wichita Falls, TX, where the "Blue Laws" were still in effect so most stores were closed one day of the weekend and Treasure City (think Kmart- but sorta dumpy) was the only place to pick up a garden hose since they closed their doors on Saturday in order to serve the Daddies in town who hadn't realized until Sunday morning that the garden hose at home was inoperable, I lingered in Books as Dad found what he need in Lawn and Garden. (Somewhere in downtown Reading there's a chop-shop that could cut that sentence down and sell it for parts...) I convinced Dad to buy The Golden Stallion, a large format, illustrated, chapter book about- yup- a boy and his horse, (horses were my thing). I may have started reading it on the way home, and once there I do remember spending the day physically on my bed, as my imagination spent the day way out West on a horse ranch with a wild Palomino. Dad looked in on me a couple of times, I think, and by day's end I had finished the entire book.

The Swiss Family Robinson, Smokey the Cow Horse, and Heidi I first read at age ten, when I spent the Summer with my name-sake and her family, the Hicks, in Cocoa Beach, FL. Yes, swimming at the beach was very memorable; Barbaranne took me to see the new movie everyone was talking about, namely, Star Wars; and I spent so much time in their pool that I developed a case of swimmer's ear. Yet she also took me to the library where I chose a stack of books.

The Summer of 1979, I lived with my Mom and brother in an apartment complex as our home in Wichita Falls was being rebuilt after the tornado that destroyed our town on April 10th. The gang of folks who socialized around the pool each evening and weekend had a book swap and I acquired my copy of Watership Down.

All of this reading widened my vocabulary and my Dad believes that it's responsible for erasing my Texas accent almost entirely. The magic of a well-written story which fires the imagination is replicated nowhere else. Though the movie screen may fill in some details, those created by the mind are far more enduring. I went through a Stephen King phase as a teenager, and I'll tell you that his book caused me to be wary of Saint Bernard dogs far more thoroughly than the movie Cujo ever could. Ideas are expressed in words which then rattle around the intellect, get sorted through in the heart and mind, and help to shape what we believe, and therefore, who we are.

And yet, written words are just that, scribbles on a page from a human imagination. Until one opens the Bible. In the Holy Scriptures we find words which not only produce images and ideas, but Words of Life which can save the soul. The words of Scripture express spiritual realities; eternal, non-subjective truths; and cosmic mysteries. But even more than that, it is a mystery that the same words which can be read by all and intellectually apprehended, when accompanied by the grace of Christ, will actually transform the heart and mind of the reader. This is why we read in the book of John that, though Jesus' crowd of followers departed in droves after a particularly difficult teaching, his chosen twelve remained.

So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,..." (John 6:67-68)

As Jesus prayed for his disciples, and for us, on the night of his betrayal, he distilled his requests of the Father down to what he, in his infinite and loving wisdom, knew to be most important.

"Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth." (John 17:17)

The writer of Hebrews would later explore the mystery of the transforming power of God's Word.

"For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

There is no question in my mind or heart that the Word of God is to be given the highest place, therefore, in our home and the church. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness he did not destroy his arguments with the brilliance of logic or attempt to reason with him. He answered him with the Word of God, against which the deceiver had no defense. If the Omnipotent One relies so on the Word of the Father, how much more must I? In our day and age, those who insist on objective truth are ridiculed and suspected of haughty pride. And yet to embrace the truth of Scripture is to acknowledge that I am nothing outside of Christ. I have no wisdom, power, or gifts of my own; all to Christ I owe.

I therefore defer to Scripture, to the Words of life, which will build a foundation of rock upon which God is preparing me to weather any storm which, in His providence, may threaten to sweep me away.

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