I love words. Maybe it's the result of my 6th grade teacher, Leslie Hollowell, asking us to develop a list of our favorite words... I wish I could go back and find that list. But I remember it had words like chrysanthemum, grace, celestial, ineffable. And words are powerful. With words we can bless, curse, build up or tear down. One word can communicate volumes. Eugene Peterson is one of my favorite authors these days, and I just picked started reading Tell it Slant: a conversation on the language of Jesus in his stories and prayers. The introduction is spot on. Peterson writes of the power of language, and how amazing it is that the same words we use in our day-to-day lives, talking and arguing, blessing, conversing with one another, we use when we talk to God.
"Language, all of it -- ever vowel, every consonant -- is a gift of God. God uses language to create and command us; we use language to confess our sins and sing praises to God. We use this very same language getting to know one another, buying and selling, writing letters and reading books. We use the same words in talking to one another that we use when we're talking to God: same nouns and verbs, same adverbs and adjectives, same conjunctions and interjections, same prepositions and pronouns. There is no 'Holy Ghost' language used for matters of God and salvation and then a separate secular language for buying cabbages and cars. 'Give us this daily bread' and 'pass the potatoes' come out of the same language pool."
God does not separate our lives into religious and secular categories, Peterson writes. So why do we? There should be a continuity of language between the words we use in bible studies and the the words we use when we're eating dinner with a friend. There should be a continuity between language used behind the pulpit and a conversation had at a soccer game. Language is a holy gift, whether it's directed vertically or horizontally.
Jesus had this continuity. The language He used in his times of preaching and teaching did not differ from the language used in his prayers and in his stories. Just as all of Jesus' speaking and conversing with his followers and non-believers pointed to His Father in heaven, so too should our language point to the God who speaks. May we speak in such a way that people are blessed, community is formed and not torn down, and that Truth is spoken.
"There is a lot more to speaking than getting the right words and pronouncing them correctly. Who we are and the way we speak make all the difference...Every time we open our mouths, whether in conversation with one another or in prayer to our Lord, Christian truth and community are on the line."