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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, July 07, 2003
    The word in the world
    I've never heard my mum speak quite that way before. Hearing her describe in close detail how a frog, on the surface of the small pond in their back garden, had patiently, fervently, stalked and caught a fly, I blinked. Could almost have been listening to Annie Dillard. I wonder (yes, wonder) how her recent progress in painting has also helped her verbal powers of observation and expression flourish. How long before the wonder of nature and the power of words combine in her so she can echo Annie's deep poetry: "All day long I feel created. I can see the blown dust on the skin on the back of my hand, the tiny trapezoids of chipped clay, moistened and breathed alive."

    And then I went to Borders and in the current Harper's Magazine I read a lengthy, thoughtful article by Jack Hitt, speculating on "the declining power of the sacred word to reach our hearts as something other than shibboleth" and the slow emergence of words born of environmentalism which are perhaps slowly replacing them: compost, which shares its roots with communion; off the grid, describing new forms of asceticism or monasticism; pollution - percieve how interchangeable that is in common usage with the older term, sin. For resurrected, read recycled.

    Hitt's no anti-Christ. He's trying, if you'll excuse me, to dig deeper into just how we create meaning, express understanding, today. He suggests that Christ's use of language helps us in this search, a "stock of metaphor ... drawn from ... daily life - seeds, weeds, plants, farming ... daily chores ... family quarrels - intensely familiar dramas." Drawn from the same stuff with which Annie creates such powerful life-pictures.

    Maybe my mum's new back-garden language is a sign of what's happening, subtly, to all of us. Hitt concludes:
      "New words appear in the culture and assume a subtle power, one that begins to feel like truth. For now, we might not be able to hear the fullness of their meanings or foresee the ripe possibilities of their future connotations. ... But where does any word start? For the answer, let us now turn to the Gospel of the Lord, as revealed by John, when he wrote, "In the beginning was the Word."