Tuesday, July 28, 2015

On Language, Dust, and Being Faithful

“That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory:/ A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,/ Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle/ With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter (Eliot, “East Coker: II”).”

I still wrestle with words and meanings.

This morning I awoke to pray and was distracted by the dust on my ceiling fan. When I think of Man formed from dust, I prefer to think of loam, rich and life-giving, not this dry, forgotten pile of who-knows-what—dead skin? It was thick like snow cover; I had not noticed its slow accumulation through the cold months. I turned the ceiling fan on and as the dust fell, it was suspended for a moment in air and light, a moment of transformation or transcendence.

If I cannot find words to describe the dust forgotten in the corners of my room, how could I think my words in any shape would travel across, not just space, but my reality? He is categorically unlike me, this God I serve, though I am made in his image (male and female he created them). His words, then, must be utterly beyond mine. I wonder if my language can capture him. I wonder if I should try.

“And prayer is more/ Than an order of words, the conscious occupation/ Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying… (T. S. Eliot).”  Yet so many of my prayers are words, spoken in faith that they are comprehensible – a private language between myself and God. Imperfect approximations.

I am a woman of letters, a woman of faith. I describe my faith in words. I send out my words in faith. I write in pursuit, to arrive at something beautiful, true, and faithful.  And what comes at the end? Affirmation? Peace? Or a single word, the exact one, the one I have been searching for all morning to describe the way the dust settles?

I want to be a faithful writer. Isaiah was anointed “to proclaim good news to the poor… to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn (Isaiah 61:1-2).” What proclamations am I anointed to deliver?

I love to write, and if this love is rightly ordered, my writing will be worship, or a kind of prayer. I write as others heal, bake bread, or make tents. I write both to mend and to create. I write because it is how I can be faithful, but I also write because it is my participation in the naming of the world.

The task that Adam started continues to this day. We have named the animals, let us now move on to naming injustices happening under the cover of darkness, to name dreams that illustrate a better path, to name the way the dust falls from my ceiling fan and stops for a moment in the light, a thousand spinning specks of dirt and hair, all that we are, on a slow descent. Because to name a thing is to affirm it, to bring it out into the light from which the darkness shrinks.

God chose to speak our language, that is, any language at all. He spoke, and it was good. As imitators, it is good for us to speak as well, and write, and read. It is good to be people of faith articulating the new, uncovering the old, illuminating the dark, proclaiming release and freedom and the year of the Lord. We use words as a tool to enjoy God, and as a tool to understand him.

We say now that we follow a faith, as if it walks before us. We say that we are of a faith, as we are of our hometown, or of color—as a thing that forms and shapes us so deeply that we cannot be rid of it. If so, then I am faithful (that word my best guess).

The word was made flesh; we heard it not. In the unconscious occupation of our praying minds sometimes we get a sense of it, like awakening from a sweet dream.  

“And prayer is more/ Than an order of words;” it is a posture of relationship, a relishing of God that transcends categories and language. My prayers are through the words I use if not in them, words suspended in supplication like so much dust.

I speak the words I know. I hope that they approach God. I hope that they are faithful.

Wine approximates blood like a poem recalls Christ, the word wrapped up in flesh. Drunk on language, I disagree with T.S. Eliot. The poetry does matter.

No comments:

Post a Comment