Let's talk about... Words
“We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.”
Extract from Praise Song for the Day, Elizabeth Alexander
Every Christmas my brother sends me a Book: something he's seen, a writer he's heard, whose ideas, he thinks, might resonate with my own. What a wonderful present a Book is; providing food for thought and bringing a third voice into the transatlantic conversations we share.
The latest offering to arrive is “Becoming Wise – An Enquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living” by Krista Tippett, a radio host and broadcaster in the USA. The raw material of her work is conversation and its potential to be so much more than the exchange of information:
“We have outlived our faith in facts to tell us the whole story or even to tell us the truth about the world and ourselves. So many of us feel excluded or dismayed by what passes for discourse in our common life.”
Becoming Wise, P.9
How many times have we heard politicians adopt predictable and polarised positions in public debate? On matters which affect our children's and grand-children's future, we expect those in positions of responsibility to engage in a meaningful exchange of ideas. Posturing, self-preservation and carefully-crafted sound bites inflame and excite, but do little to move the conversation to higher ground. What a misuse of precious words. What a waste of our gifts of communication. Where is the generosity, the openness, 'the words to consider, reconsider'?
I wonder what transformation might occur if we were willing to initiate authentic discourse, in which differing opinions are listened to respectfully and where the speaker is valued, though their views might be controversial?
I tell my brother about our frustration at the paucity of debate in our corridors of power. He tells me of the impact of the Government shutdown in the United States. Why can't political leaders talk sensibly to one another anymore? Where have all the right words gone?
“The art of starting new kinds of conversations, of creating new departure points and new outcomes in our common grappling, is not rocket science. But it does require that we nuance or retire some habits so ingrained that they feel like the only way it can be done. We’ve all been trained to be advocates for what we care about. This has its place and its value in civil society, but it can get in the way of the axial move of deciding to care about each other.”
Becoming Wise, P.29
The answer is that we have the words. We keep them close to our hearts and only speak them when we are in a trusted environment where we are loved, valued and listened to. At CPW we aim to create these environments; sacred places for meaningful conversations, with each other, ourselves and our God. We do not underestimate the value of our activity. We hold it close. It is a precious resource to revitalise us in times of doubt or fear. The brave among us seek to widen our conversations further, to include those of differing views and beliefs. And we survive because we are those…
...who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
we will say to the Lord, “My refuge,
And my fortress:
my God, in whom I Trust.”
We are people of The Word, revitalised by the Faith, Hope and Love we share. It is our meaningful conversations, just like those transatlantic conversations with my brother, which will transform our view of the future.
I finish with all the words of Elizabeth Alexander's poem Praise Song for the Day in the hope that it finds some resonance in you for our future together.
Anne Dixon, CPW Chair
Praise Song for the Day
Written and performed by Elizabeth Alexander for the inauguration of President Barak Obama on 20th January 2009
Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s eyes or not,
about to speak or speaking.
All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.
Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tyre,
repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.
A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin. \
We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.
I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.
Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,
picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.
Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
he figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.
Some live by love thy neighbour as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?
Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.