This morning I decided to gift myself a morning to write. As some of you will know, I am currently writing a second book - the first, Finding Our Voice, having been published last month. This one is about tears – including reflections on bible stories about the many different kind of tears, and the place they play in our lives. With eighteen chapters to write and a deadline of next May, it is a tight schedule. So, as I was already prepared for Sunday, I sat down, anticipating a fulfilling morning.
And no words came. Nothing. Almost total blank. The few that crept unwillingly into my mind like sulky teenagers did not fit into what I needed to write. Usually my friends, this time their desertion held me hostage to an anxiety – what if the words never come back? What if this, one of my greatest pleasures, was forever denied me because they had not just taken a holiday but permanently emigrated?
I have always loved words. Those in childhood books offered a refuge from reality, a place to hide, an imaginary domain I could create as I wanted. A holiday would still not be one for me without several books to read. In Gary Chapman’s five love languages, words of affirmation is one of a couple which most convey care to me, as long as they are genuine and not emanating from a reflex politeness. Jesus is described by John as the Word - the ultimate expression of God’s love for us and all his creation.
Words of course are not always our allies. All of us will have been hurt by the sharp, unkind variety which can sometimes wield a power long after the sound has retreated into space, the kind we wish we could delete whether spoken to us, or used ourselves. When my mother died, the second parent to die when I was still only 25, I could cope with people who meant well but trotted out clichés in their ineptitude. What I found harder was Christians, knowing I had a faith, who felt obliged to defend God by providing an explanation for my mother’s death when both she and I were still young, which owed more to a simplistic theology than to compassion. It would have been better to have said nothing and simply been there.
Because sometimes words are not enough. It has been my privilege to sit with those who are dying and at such times silent companionship, the simplicity of gentle touch, often seems a better balm. I remember many decades ago someone, recognising the extremity of my distress, simply (and for them very unusually) holding out a hand. It was enough. In joyous moments too, caught up in the beauty of nature or at the birth of a child, they are unnecessary and potentially even an intrusion on the holiness of the moment.
I hope the words return. But it is a good reminder that when they are there, let’s use them wisely and kindly. And when they are not, there are other ways to express our love, the most important calling of all.