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The Joy of Words

December 9, 2012

I had a conversation last week with two of the most fascinating females I have ever met. Our two youngest granddaughters are in the early stages of language development. One is enjoying making sounds; the other is using one-word expressions. I listened with delight to everything these little girls had to say.

Two days later I visited a dear lady in the Neuro-Intensive Care Unit. Recovering from serious head trauma and resulting brain surgery, she tried to communicate with me. Because she was on a ventilator to assist in her breathing, she spoke no audible words. She made a heroic attempt, though, to form words with her lips. She was clearly frustrated when I didn’t understand and overjoyed when I was able to interpret her words correctly.

The first chapter of the Bible reveals the power of words. The creation account makes it clear that the Almighty spoke into existence the heavens and the earth. God verbalized plants, animals, and humankind into being. As those formed in the image of the Divine, we have been blessed with the ability to use words.

A friend sent a Facebook message to me announcing her new blog. She extended the invitation, “Read it and let me know what you think.”

As I read her rambling self-revelation about her experiences since New Year’s Day and her stream-of-consciousness reflection about the intent to better herself in the year ahead, I was struck with the question, “Who, really, wants to read all of this?”

I paused to think about the many blogs available for public scrutiny. The advances in  technology have resulted in a proliferation of words.

Then I became more introspective. I, too, am guilty of contributing to the deluge of verbiage. Each week I preach as many as four times and record three radio programs. I write “By the Way” for the H-J Weekly. I submit an occasional article for the Faith and Values page of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. I pen a monthly column for the church newsletter. I am adding to the increasing volume of words.

My secretary transcribes these spoken and recorded words as written documents on her computer. No wonder she has carpal tunnel syndrome!

I need only to see her glazed, deer-in-the-headlights stare – after she has been listening to my recorded voice and typing feverishly to transcribe every word – to understand that I am making a significant contribution to the avalanche of words. At a recent book signing, one of my seminary classmates and long-time friends introduced me, saying, “This is Kirk Neely. He has written several books, two of which are new. Kirk is a man who has no unpublished thoughts.”

While Clare and I were eating at Wade’s Restaurant in Spartanburg one day, a man I didn’t recognize stopped at our booth. “Hey, ain’t you that preacher?”

I stood up and shook his hand, “Kirk Neely is my name.”

He didn’t offer his name but asked, “You got more books coming out anytime soon?”

“Yes, I have two new publications,” I answered.

“I don’t read books, but I’ve read that mule book all the way through two times.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

“Yep, I have it in my bathroom. I read it every day.”

Maybe the fellow’s remarks suggest where my books belong.

The use of spoken words requires restraint. Our language can cause significant damage if it is untrue or ill-spoken. A children’s rhyme declares, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.”  The harsh reality is that gossip, rumor, and malicious words can inflict deep wounds.

The written word also requires self-discipline.  Twitter and texting offer abbreviated, instantaneous communication that encourages impulsive messaging. The quick release of words into cyberspace has spelled trouble for numerous politicians, athletes, and celebrities. An inherent danger lies in spilling out words with little or no forethought.

Long ago I learned the value of journaling. I keep a spiral notebook or a bound pad close at hand most of the time.

A journal differs from an Internet blog in that it is private, not meant for public consumption. Written in the front of one of my journals is a line I borrowed from Morton Kelsey: “If I should die before I wake, throw my journal in the lake!”

Recorded thoughts and observations become grist for the writing mill and may eventually be published. A journal becomes a repository of ideas that can later be more fully developed.

The tradition of journal keeping includes many great writers. St Augustine, Dag Hammarskjöld, John Woolman, Mother Teresa, Søren Kierkegaard, Ernest Hemingway, and John James Audubon are but a few among the many journal keepers.

While I share the joy of words with many outstanding preachers and writers, I often wonder if my many words have any value.

Some years ago I preached a Sunday morning message that prompted several excellent questions from two church members. In order to better respond to their queries, I decided to listen to a recording of that sermon. After supper I sat down in a recliner and started the CD player. Intent on paying close attention, I promptly went sound asleep.

I suppose there is some value to all of my words.

Kirk H. Neely
© January 2012

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