An Almost Right Word and the Right Word

Mark Twain once said that the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lighting and a lighting bug. The church is committed to the right words, lighting-flash words which illumine the mind, captivate the imagination, touch the heart, and strengthen the will.

As a preacher, I can identify with poet-essayist-undertaker Thomas Lynch who said:
I am a slave to words. I am their servant. The acoustics and meanings, their sounds and sense, sometimes they make me shiver—the precision, the liberties, the health and healing in their meanings. Language is the first among God’s many gifts. To name and proclaim makes us feel like gods. To define and discern, to clarify and articulate, to affirm—surely this was what our maker had in mind when we were made in that image and likeness. Not the beard or lighting bolts or bluster . . . And the real power of Creation is the power of words to guard us like angels, to protect and defend and define us; to incite, and excite, and inspire; to separate us from the grunting, growling, noisome, wordless, worthless meowing things.” (Lynch, Bodies in Motion and at Rest, pp. 217-218)

Occasionally, once-vital words lose some of their strength. Maybe they burnout from overuse or abuse. Perhaps maybe they are weakened by neglect and misuse. Maybe they get tired of being misunderstood. For whatever reason, as the venerable Greek scholar A. T. Robertson once said, words have a way of running down at the heels; from time to time, they need to be taken in for repair.

Every week, I am scrambling for the right words, trying to discern which words need to be rested or restored and which ones have energy and vitality to share. Poets and novelists help, as does listening closely to the words--the metaphors, analogies and other figures of speech--we use use in our ordinary conversations with each other.

Oddly enough, what helps most is silence, because it is in silence that I have time to hear words, truly and deeply to hear them, and to allow them to resonate and resound. Without silence, the right words almost never get a hearing. In silence, I can sometimes hear them whispering to me.