There is a church down the street with the following on its lawn sign: “GODISNOWHERE”. The point of the sign is to reveal a person’s perspective – does the reader see “God is nowhere” or “God is now here”? Clever. But the sign also serves as a prime example for the value of space. There is meaning in strings of letters and there is meaning in the breaks: legend and leg end (one involves a great feat and other is great feet), justice and just ice (ask for each at the donut shop and you will get two very different things), menswear and men swear (it may refer to a blue shirt or a blue streak) or conspiracy and cons piracy (descriptions of a nefarious plot and the actions of a thieving ship of prisoners). Space contributes to meaning.
Pauses are impactful. Watch any competition television show and you will experience the power of the pause: Ryan Seacrest stating on American Idol that “the winner…will be revealed when we come back” or Tom Bergeron on Dancing with the Stars looking into the camera and saying “the couple leaving tonight’s competition…(a camera pans over the contestants for 30 seconds)…[insert names here]”. We all can recall an occasion when we included a pregnant pause – for effect, in remorse, to increase suspense – to take a breath to add weight to what needed to be said. Space contributes to importance.
Unfortunately, most of us rush our words and our conversations suffer. We abhor silence. We seek to remedy the awkward pause with something, anything to fill the void. We have lost our appreciation for space, for pause, for silence. We have stopped taking the time to listen. We have ceased the practice of seeking God’s help in appropriating just the right phrase. We have replaced relational interactions with information transfers, expressing less of our feelings and more of the facts. We tweet and text, ignoring punctuation and eliminating the full stop from the period or the subtle shift from the comma. Space contributes to emotion.
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14
The root word for the Old Testament practice of meditation relates to the biological function of digestion. We have a similar English word: rumination. We ‘chew on’ ideas, we ‘digest’ materials. In a real sense we break down the thoughts, sights and sounds of life into their basic nutritional components and absorb them, using them for our benefit and the benefit of others. We would be better communicators if we allowed time for the inner processes to come to a completion before we uttered some of the empty outward expressions our conversations contain.
Allow yourself the space to build meaning, emphasize importance and express emotion. Perhaps we can, in our own way, incorporate the wisdom of C.S. Lewis, who said,
“A pipe gives a wise man time to think and a fool something to stick in his mouth.”
We all can benefit from a little time to think and then utter just the right expression.
Last Saturday my wife and I went to Regis College to sit in the audience for a taping of the NPR broadcast of Says You, which the show’s website describes as “a simple game with words played by two teams in front of live, enthusiastic audiences from coast to coast”. If you haven’t heard the broadcast before, Says You offers up a series of puzzles relating to words: on the show we saw being recorded, the panel was asked to remember the instructions offered by flight attendants, recognize celebrities related to the Marx Brothers (actually, people whose names ended in ‘o’), answer trivia about Gilbert and Sullivan and decipher overly complicated idioms. It was a great way to spend the afternoon.
One of the regular features of Says You takes place before and after the station breaks. That is when the panelists play a game where one team is given a word (like ‘kish’) before the break and are asked to make up plausible definitions to go along with the real one. When the show resumes, the other team tries to guess the true meaning of the word and reject the false suggestions. Most of the time, the best definition is not the correct answer. I case you are wondering, ‘kish’ means ‘slag floating on the surface of molten iron’.
This definition game is fun when asked to define arcane or obscure words. The danger, as I see it, is when we seek to define some more common vocabulary. We are all susceptible to making up definitions for everyday words like love, happiness, family, security or turbulence. We are all susceptible to thinking we know the meaning of a word when we really do not; for years I thought the word ‘sanguine’ meant ‘sad’, when in fact it really means the opposite. Then there are words that have so many definitions that we are susceptible to substituting one meaning for another – words like ‘run’ or ‘set’.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. – John 1:1
There is a word, a term, a name that many find difficult to define. Let’s play the game and define the term “Jesus”. Is it:
- An interjection of emotion, stated during times of high stress indicating pain or frustration, such as, “Jesus, that hurts!”; or
- The name of a historical or mythological teacher, said to have lived from 4BC to AD30 in present day Israel, Lebanon and Syria, who served his community as a religious leader and moral teacher until his death by execution, such as “Jesus was born in Bethlehem”; or
- The the promised Messiah of the Jewish people, spoken of in their scriptures, a descendant of David, a worker of miracles which demonstrated the power of God and served to declare him as God Himself, who was crucified for the sins of all people, who died and who rose from the grave and who now dwell eternally with God the Father, such as “Jesus is the Savior of the world”?
I close with a relevant quote from another radio broadcaster from the 1950’s:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity