While visiting the Redemptorist Retreat Center, I was standing beneath petroglyphs created by the Hohokam peoples more than a century ago and marveled at our timeless yearning to communicate with one another.
Petroglyphs speak to an innate desire to share and shape our stories. Today, most of us use words and not markings to tell our stories.
Never before have there been so many ways to share our words. Perhaps we are saturated with words and have lost respect for the power they hold. When I mentioned this observation to my spiritual director, Karen Johnson she said, “I tell my grandchildren, the old saying ‘sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ is not true. Sticks and stones will break our bones and words can break our hearts.”
“We are to let our words be gifts and not weapons.” Karen concluded.
Our words have energy. If we believe we are invited by God to co-create the beloved community, we are to examine how we use words to move toward that vision, and how we use words to move away from it.
Words matter–silence matters too. Recently I was with a group of people who were belittling someone who has been good to me. I stood by silently, losing the opportunity to bravely use my words to defend a friend. I did nothing to transform the energy of ridicule toward the energy of love.
There is a recent notion that we are not to take people, especially people in power, at their word. I disavow this cynical manipulation of words. If we cannot trust what a person says, posts, or tweets, how are we to understand him or her? Communication is the foundational basis of relationship.
It is disingenuous to throw out words or promises or threats , and then ridicule those who take your words seriously by saturating the airwaves with more words to say you did not mean your original words. Slinging words around like hash in a pigpen and expecting the recipient to intuit one’s sincerity places a false sense of responsibility upon the recipient; and worse, falsely releases the word-slinger of culpability for the energy created by his or her words.
I can’t control what other people do, but I can be more mindful of the power evoked by my words. I can own the truth that words not only tell, but shape our stories.
I commit to be more discerning of how I use words, asking myself a question inspired by Karen’s insight: Are these words gift or weapon? I pray for the strength and wisdom to choose gift. I pray for courage to use my words to speak up when silence would mean allowing weapons to be aimed unabated.
I hold out hope that ours is a God of transformation and redemption. I also believe we are invited into that process–individually and collectively. What will we choose? What words will we choose?