In recent days, I have found myself at a loss for words. Impossible as that may be for those who know me well to imagine. Definitely a liability when I come up in the blog rotation. Not in the sense of being speechless, as I was when standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon at daybreak or on the National Mall with 15 acres of the AIDS Memorial Quilt spreading from the Capitol to the Washington Monument. Nor am I referring to my lapsed lexicon, those words that, too frequently now it seems, miss their cue, leaving embarrassing gaps in conversations and lines of reasoning. This silence comes more from a place of dilemma, helplessness, even fear, than from mystification or reverence. This silence doesn’t appear to be an invitation to reflection. My healthy respect for quiet notwithstanding, this silence is unsettling.
Words are among my deepest loves and, like any passionate relationship, it’s about the other and it’s about who I am with the other. (Stay with me here.) Words have departed. I am diminished. Not as complete as I was, perhaps only yesterday. Less self-assured, less about which I am certain. Feeling I have less to offer. Not merely to fill space with sound, but with inquiry and ideas, optimism, appreciation, cheer, sense and nonsense.
It is not my intent to be cryptic in not speaking of the reasons for this verbal deficiency. While they are indeed significant, the questions raised in their wake are not that helpful, wondering why or who might be to blame. I’m fairly certain an earlier Center for FaithJustice blog query What are you reading? would provide deeper insight – and no doubt reintroduce me to some of those missing words! A valuable consideration seems to be how to move forward. How do we get through? When that which we have counted on can no longer serve us as we desire – a skill, a relationship, a judgment, a creed – what practices can we discover or develop or design toward better balance, toward peace of mind and heart?
In the current circumstance of language in short supply, I’m being invited to LISTEN. One who loved me dearly nevertheless insisted the train from my brain to my mouth makes no stops. Now I’m prompted to pay attention to the words and the wisdom of others, particularly those with whom I might disagree. In the midst of so much recent shouting, I am encouraged to seek discourse and thoughtful exchange. I’m being invited to LOOK. To seek beauty and elegance, to coax truth out from its hiding places, to recognize the kindnesses of humanity dancing across my every day. I’m being invited to LOVE. Always more authentically lived in action than with words. Serve somebody. Keep a promise. Bear witness. Forgive.
This summer we heard the gospel narrative often referred to as the multiplication of loaves and fishes, though that idea is never alluded to in the text. Yet “everyone ate and was satisfied.” (Luke 9:17) Bring me whatever you have, Jesus is saying. I’ll make up the difference. I thought of that as I wandered through an exhibit at the Jewish Museum last month, seeking and finding great beauty and delight in the quirky, provocative work of illustrator and author Maira Kalman. I was introduced to her drawings and commentary in a series of online OpEd columns in the New York Times and this small show allowed us into her inner world, a curious place to be sure. There is a painting of a dress she had embroidered. It said “Ich habe genug.” Which is a Bach cantata, written in Maira’s hand, part of the painting. Which I once thought meant, “I’ve had it, I can’t take any more, give me a break.” But I was wrong. It means “I have enough.” And that is utterly true. I happen to be alive. End of discussion.
No doubt I will continue to lose words. Perhaps you will find one or two of them. Use them with care. In the meantime, let us continue to listen, to look, to love. And to live in gratitude, for we have more than enough.