Ancient Words

Myriad Latin words


Words are everywhere in our culture. Spoken, sung, written. On paper, in books, on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, podcasts, music downloads, and in formats I’m not even aware of.  There are I suspect more words per person now than ever before. As a blogger, I have contributed more than my fair share, I know.

Diverse Bücher (Bücherhaufen) aus dem 16., 17. und 18. Jahrhundert, aus meinem Besitz (User:Gnosos), selbst Fotografiert

And oddly enough, it seems to me we value words less now than ever before.

Over the past several months, I’ve been thinking about words and about their power. Words from our parents shape who we become.  The words of Scripture or hymns are often the last things those with dementia or who are near death respond to.

In my faith tradition words are the way God creates. The spoken word is so powerful it can create the universe and all that is in it. 

Once a word is spoken, the word has a life of its own. We cannot call it back. We cannot undo it. That’s the tragedy when Isaac gives his blessing to Jacob rather than Esau. Once spoken, words cannot be altered- even stolen words. The words have been spoken and spoken words have power.  They fulfill their purpose. The blessing has been given and cannot be undone. There are no “do overs” when a word is spoken.

The words I find myself most attracted to these days are the ancient words. The old words that Christians have used for thousands of years. I know, in some circles,  ancient words are not valued.  Saying the same old thing  is considered empty and meaningless. Merely the rote mutterings of people with no true faith of their own.  At the very least, praying the ancient words indicates a lack of imagination.

And while that can be true, perhaps the problem lies with us and not with the words. People have been saying, “I love you.” for a very long time. Sometimes it is an empty phrase, even a lie. But sometimes it is the most real truth in the universe. 

Certainly not every word has power.  However, I suspect empty phrases and meaningless words don’t last. My grocery list from this week has appropriately already been forgotten. Only things with meaning stand the test of time.

The peace of Christ be with you.

Lift up your hearts.

I am the resurrection and the life.

Into your hands, O Lord, we commend our sister…

I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit….

Kyrie Eleison

So these ancient words, the words that have lasted, the words people have spoken and sung for thousands of years. Do they really have power?

I once belonged to a church where every week we recited the Apostle’s Creed. I considered myself to be in general agreement with the Creed.  I certainly gave it not serious thought between services. I’ll confess I said it with varying degrees of attentiveness.  I just stood up and said it along with everyone else. But one Sunday as I said those ancient words I realized – I really did believe what I was saying. Those ancient words had deep meaning for me. I hadn’t tried to believe them, I just did. And then I had to understand, to think about what I believed. As Anselm said, “Faith seeking understanding.”  

Certainly it seems better if we are actively engaged in the words we say. Bored or empty recitation is less than ideal. But somehow it seems God is at work in these ancient words, whether we realize it or not.

I’d like to know, what do you think?


By the way the Grand Dialogue Annual Conference is tomorrow in Grand Rapids. It’s not too late to register! I hope to see you there.

One thought on “Ancient Words

  1. I’m with you…. good post. words we say and think, define us as much as by what we do… it a holistic connection to we are to commune. nice, nice, nice. cindy

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