Words Alone

Eugene Peterson quotes Abraham Heschel in his chapter on Jehoiakim in the book Run with Horses. Heschel, speaking of the word and the scriptures, writes,

“Some people may wonder: why was the light of God given in the form of language? How is it conceivable that the divine should be contained in such brittle vessels as consonants and vowels? This question betrays the sin of our age: to treat lightly the ether which carries the light-waves of the spirit. What else in the world is as capable of bringing man and man together over the distances in space and in time? Of all things on earth, words alone never die. They have so little matter and so much meaning. . . . God took these Hebrew words and breathed into them of His power, and the words became a live wire charged with His spirit. To this very day they are hyphens between heaven and earth. What other medium could have been employed to convey the divine? Pictures enameled on the moon? Statues hewn out of the Rockies?”
— Abraham Heschel, God in Search of Man

I am really taken with his description of the voiced breath which speaks: “the ether which carries the light-waves of the spirit” — that’s beautiful.

The word throughout Jeremiah’s book is active and alive. It is true. When we pretend that words don’t live (“Of all things on earth, words alone never die”), we delude ourselves by taking up the very means to silence accusations or deny their reality. We swim in words which were spoken long ago, which we regret, which we hope to hear.

Malcolm Guite in his poem, “What if?” gets at some of the same thoughts albeit as a warning against those idle words we speak.

This sonnet is based on Jeremiah 36:22-24 in which the word which has been written on a  scroll and read to Jehoiakim is cut up into pieces and thrown on a fire. What of the word then? Can that word die? Will it ever come again?

If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

Words alone never die. Of all things on
Earth, they linger, rumble, ring, and grumble
In our hearts throughout life, give voice, run on—
A prattling ‘gainst which we murmur, mumble.

You may cut off, stop the conversation
Silence the words in a rage yelling, run
Away, dismiss with gesticulation,
With nonchalance turn away, shun.

But with words, the Word comes to speak with you
Wrapped in flesh, counting everything a loss,
The wisdom of God whom you count a fool,
Cut him dawn, cut him off, hang on a cross
Where that Word speaks one word, “Father forgive…”
Dies alone that by His word, we may live.

© Randall Edwards 2018.
This poem is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks.
Artwork: By the Providence Lithograph Company (http://thebiblerevival.com/clipart/1905/jer36.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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