Two Pieces of Paper (LFEF 3.11)

3 09 2010

‘A person should carry two pieces of paper, one in each pocket, at all times, to be used as necessary:  One that says, “The world was created for me”, and one that says, “I am a speck of dust.”‘ (a paraphrase, from Rabbi Bunim)

The word "human" comes from the same word as "humus" - meaning soil. Not to mention, "humble", "humility", and "humiliation".

I said in my last post that in order to find the courage to speak out with bold, courageous speech to shape this world, we can find motivation and courage by remembering the glory to which God has called us.

The Psalmist tells us of this glory:

“3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

“4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

“5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings [c]
and crowned him with glory and honor.

“6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet…” (Psalm 8)

When we are seeing things clearly, we will know that it is beyond impossible that beings so lowly and weak as ourselves should dare to give voice to that which is, and yet we will know also that God has made it so.  For it is in the same psalm that we are told, “From the lips of children and infants, you [God] have ordained praise” (v. 2).  The True God is so humble that he loves to be named, described, and worshiped even by children.

An imperfect man who dared to speak out, thank God.

I have known wonderful people and gifted artists who shy away from words, either because they see themselves as lacking the necessary eloquence to do justice to the truths they observe, or because they believe that putting words to something grand will detract from its mysterious beauty.  I sympathize with this feeling, and I think those who adopt such an attitude are very close to the truth: They approach the issue of speech with an appropriate humility toward themselves, and reverence for the beauty of creation.  But they shy away from the truth that we are “crowned with glory and honor”, and called to shape creation along with God.

This man... probably should have kept his hand over his mouth.

At the same time, there are others who are all too hasty to speak out, saying the first thing that comes into their minds in a way that overestimates their own intelligence and underestimates the vastness of the realms they claim to know so well.

Which one are you?  Are you one who shies away from words, fearing the risk of placing yourself on the frontier between that which you understand, and that which is wholly mysterious?  Or are you one who blunders blindly into realms of mystery, not even realizing that you walk on Holy Ground?

Emily Dickinson has a wonderful and simple poem that speaks to this topic:

A word is dead
When it is said
Some say.

I say it just
Begins to live
That day.

In other words: Words do not always bring goodness and glory.  It is indeed true that careless speech spoken by one who does not know that he walks “where angels fear to tread” is more likely to diminish glory than enhance it; words spoken in this way are “dead” as soon as they are spoken.  But this knowledge must not cause us to shy away from the task to which we are called.  On the other hand, bold, courageous speech, spoken in humility, is life-giving, and such words become living words that give shape to creation and bring glory to God.

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