From the Clergy
Lying in bed this morning (Saturday!), listening to the Today programme on Radio 4, I was reminded of the importance of words. In my professional life I am constantly aware of language, its development and its use and especially the difficulty deaf children have in developing a good vocabulary and learning to put words together to according to the grammatical rules of the language in use.
The stories that particularly caught my attention this morning were about “words”. The first was the outrage felt in African countries at the words allegedly used by Donald Trump during a private meeting in the White House. If true, they reflected an appalling underlying attitude towards some of the less well-developed countries of the world – countries whose exploitation has contributed significantly to the wealth of other nations including the United States.
Someone was reported as saying “It’s only words”; however, words reveal our thoughts and attitudes and often lead on to our actions, as well as having an immediate impact (good or bad) on those to whom they are directed. Words both shape our thinking and perception and also reflect our ideas, beliefs and emotions. Words can be used to empathise, argue and persuade but also to manipulate or humiliate others.
Words are powerful tools and this was expanded in the very different article following the Trump report. It was about William Blake. The National Trust have an exhibition of his art work at Petworth in Sussex and Philip Pullman, president of the Blake society, spoke about both Blake’s art and poetry.
In his poetry William Blake, like all poets, used words to explore and convey concepts, relationships, nature, emotions and much more. His poetry is mystical and philosophical and he particularly explores the relationship between the divine and our humanity. His poem Auguries of Innocence begins with these famous words:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand, And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand , And Eternity in an hour.
His initial paradox evokes the mystery and wonder to be found in nature and particularly in the commonplace and everyday. The metaphorical imagery used by Blake reminds us that the small, seemingly insignificant "grain of sand" or "wild flower" can hold universal beauty and importance. We are reminded that ordinary everyday objects can still be transcendentally beautiful, and allow us to connect to God. That is the ultimate goal of Blake’s poetry: unity with the divine – which is how the poem ends:
God Appears & God is Light , To those poor Souls who dwell in Night
But does a Human Form Display , To those who Dwell in Realms of day
We have just celebrated the birth of Jesus – when God took on our human form. John’s gospel describes Jesus as the “Word made flesh”; Jesus is the way that God communicates his very nature to us. In conveying this nature, Jesus warned his followers that it was not sufficient for example, not to murder; Jesus tells us not to hate for he knows that hate is a stage in a process which may in extreme cases lead to murder.
One of my favourite sayings (attributed to many and various people but essentially of unknown origin) reinforces this message emphasising the role that words play within our lives:
“Watch your beliefs for they become your thoughts; watch your thoughts for they become your words; watch your words; for they become your actions; watch your actions for they become your habits; watch your habits; for they become your values; watch your values for they will become your destiny.”