The Language of Love
“Jesus answered them: Is it not written in your law: I said you are gods?”
– John, 10:34
That we are essentially different from the animals has become a contested claim. Many, if not most people, now believe that human beings are animals that have developed a bit beyond other primates. It is therefore time, not nature, that accounts for our ability to reason and speak. We are but “naked apes,” as a once-popular book on anthropology described human beings.
And our speech is often compared to the sounds made by chimpanzees and dolphins. The idea is that there is nothing distinctive about man that separates him from the rest of animal creation. Any assertion to the contrary is attributed to baseless conceit. We even encounter the charge of “species-ism” being leveled against those who insist, either for religious reasons or from common sense, that man stands above the animal world as a radically different kind of being. “Species-ism” is being equated by some to racism as among the great evils of the age that must be eradicated, by whatever means. Vegans are becoming more militant and butcher shops are being attacked.
But the most sublime spiritual document we possess announces “In the beginning was the Word.” We can contemplate this sentence for a lifetime and never come to the end of that “beginning” or exhaust the meaning of that “Word.” We are soon told that everything came to be through the “Word.” So, however we may conceive ourselves, our being issues from the “Word.”
The Greek term “logos” is translated into the English “Word,” but the Greek term connotes much more that its translation: the logos has a history of meaning in Greek thought and it encompasses not just the ordinary language of the everyday world, but the very pattern of creation, the form that matter assumes through the agency of spirit. It is creative force. When the “Word” is spoken, time begins. And with time, form appears. And within time and form we take our place in the great miracle and mystery of the universe. This should fill us with wonder. Plato says that all philosophy – all seeking for knowledge – begins in wonder. If we lack wonder, if we regard the creation as a dead thing, as matter only, no sense of wonder can arise in us.
When St. John identifies Christ as the Logos, the creative Word, it should astonish us. At the same time, our hearts should melt with the realization that the Word dwells in us as the very life and light of our being. From the beginning, from beyond the beginning, the Logos was with God, which means we, in our seminal selves, were with God. We were brought into consciousness, into physical form, so that we might know God as He knows us: as an expression of the love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father. “In that day you shall know, that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” -John, 14:20. And the Holy Spirit is given us to awaken this knowledge and to help us abide in it: to live in it and through it and for it.
When we contemplate the Word we come to the threshold of our thinking, beyond which we cannot go without grace, for on the other side of the threshold is the spiritual world from which all thought, all words, arise. Yet, the spiritual world has no boundaries, except in our understanding. For if nothing came to be without the Word, then everything is an expression of the Word, including the physical world which we perceive in the Light that is Life. For when Our Lord said He was the Light of the world He meant it in every possible way.
When we use words, we should realize that they are reflections of the Word. We cannot speak things into creation as Our Lord does, but we do have limited creative powers: our words have an effect upon us and others and the world. We live through the Word of God, but the character of our life is shaped by the words we think and speak. Every action is first a thought, a verbal conception which is brought into the world when it is joined to our will. We are made in the image of God, which means that in our limited capacity as human beings, we do what God does: we create by the power of the word.
Our creative power is a tremendous force in our lives and the lives of those around us. When we speak to someone, we enter into their spiritual life. Our words resonate in the soul of the other person and evoke a response. We do not entirely determine that response, but we are joined to it in some degree. We cannot be blamed or praised for the disposition of another, but we are responsible for the intention of our words: Did we speak to wound, to diminish or deceive or control another? Or did we speak to help, to comfort, to enlarge the love that is in us and in the other person?
Imagine how different our experience of the world would be if we all regarded language as a spiritual gift to be used only in love. All the malicious babble of the news media would stop, never more to be heard. Politicians could speak only the truth, which would mean that most of the politicians that now hold power would have to retire. The hatred, the vendettas, the calumnies that escape from our lips and gather like noxious clouds that darken our horizon would be swept away and the pure light of Divine love would shine upon the world with warmth and tenderness. We would all say much less, but we would say it to good purpose. Words would become like gold, a precious treasure to be guarded with great care.
We use words recklessly because we fail to see what they produce. We are so soaked in materialism that we only accept as real the gross perceptions of the physical world, which in truth are the least of realities because they are the most ephemeral. If we could only see the power of our words as visible forms! Imagine seeing a hideous beast composed of envy and malice issuing from our mouths and standing before us. Then imagine a creature of the purest light with a tenderly beautiful face taking shape from an expression rooted in selfless love.
This is really what happens, but we cannot see into the spiritual world as we can see into the physical. We must develop the proper organs of perception so that we can see the effects of our words as plainly as the effects of our actions. And this can only be done if our words are measured by the Word: the Logos that brought forth all things in love must live in our hearts and color our language. Then, we will enter into the creative act of love that is the Logos.
It is written in the Gospels that Our Lord spoke as one having authority. It was not just what Our Lord said, but the manner in which He said it. He spoke from the fullness of His being: mind, body and soul came together seamlessly in every word, in every gesture and movement. He did not speak as one divided in himself, as we do, with our words often at odds with our thoughts and feelings.
It is easy to speak the same words Our Lord spoke; to express the same meaning, at least superficially. It is done all the time by people professing to be religious or wanting to project an aura of piety. But using the words of Jesus insincerely or in a perfunctory or unfeeling way betrays those words and devalues them. We get used to hearing pious rhetoric and it means nothing, for those who mouth it do not speak as one having authority. Their minds and hearts and souls are not united in their words.
But so long as we speak in this way ourselves, so long as we are divided internally, with our lips saying one thing and our mind thinking another and our heart at war with our head, we will merely add to the babble of the world, including the pious babble. Language is a gift from God. Its purpose is the same as the purpose of all things in this world: to bring us to God. If we consciously strive each day to guard our words, to speak consciously and responsibly, not unthinkingly and recklessly, we will have moved closer to Christ, in Whom we live and move and have our being. Let the Word become the words that are formed in our hearts and spoken to one another. Let words become blessings.