My husband had motor neurone disease and in the difficult year following his death one image spoke powerfully to me. A set of wind chimes hung in the fernery between our house and the one next door. On windy nights they tinkled quite musically, but the neighbours complained that they were noisy and kept them awake. They suggested we move them. We left them where they were, but every night before locking the doors I tied up the wind chimes.
MND did that to my husband –silenced him, gradually at first, till one day the words he might have spoken were gone. He was a man who’d never talked a lot, probably picked that up from his father who was the most silent man I have ever met. They both had so much inside that never got put into words.
We’re all born speechless. It’s been a fascinating process observing Harry, my youngest grandchild, word by word and sentence by sentence discovering the connection between the world and him. Now he’s four and wants to know the why of so many things. Sometimes that’s when I become speechless, because words are all we humans have to explain truths and facts and mysterious things, and sometimes that’s not enough.
How to explain God? The Jewish people found the notion of God so absolutely central to their lives and so far beyond the words available to them, that they shrouded God’s name in mystery. They experienced God in their journey through peace and in war, and in story and song passed that God knowledge down through the generations. Until in a time and place as ordinary as any, a baby was born and God gave them a new word, Jesus, the Word of God.
How wonderful! The Word of God began life like the rest of us – wordless. Like Harry, he learnt to name what he saw, and to put words around what he couldn’t see, things like emotions and the complexity of relationships. Eventually those words became stories – timeless stories rooted deep in human experience. Two thousand years later the words he left behind still spell out the timelessness of God’s love and expectations.
My days are bookmarked in words. I’m editing the book I’ve just written, I blog, I journal. While I read spirituality the old fashioned way, I read fiction on kindle and all the other offerings pile up on my IPad. I keep in touch with people through email, leaving Tweets, Twitter, Facebook and other programs to those who are younger and more media adventurous.
The twenty first century world is a babble of voices all saying, “Listen to me”. Somewhere in it all is the word of God.
We flesh it out through the way we live, and some of us use modern audio-visual technology to spread the Good News. I’ve learnt that if the Word of God is to walk through words I write, then I have to wait until the words drop away and in the silence that follows I can get in touch with the life and the wisdom that runs beneath them.
That’s an Advent feeling – like the moment of silent expectation before the curtain goes up on a production, or an email is opened, or a baby gives its first cry. A moment when nothing happens, before everything happens. Only then can I find words that are at home in the present time, words that are honest, life-giving, fierce, compassionate and sometimes dangerous.
Every Christmas we sing Silent Night, and there’s something about the words, the music, the peace it evokes and the memories it stimulates that moves us to silence. It recaptures the silent time before the Word was made flesh, before the waiting world let out a long, satisfied breath, because the Word is God and the Word was here. Theologian and scripture scholar Megan McKenna explains it as “the day God disappears into our flesh, sinking deep inside our human nature. . .” The Word became flesh and, to use the language of the Old Testament, pitched his tent among us.
The world calls it Christmas day while the missal names it the nativity. But in reality we are celebrating incarnation. One Word, five letters, Jesus – a walking, breathing, loving, suffering, yearning mix of all that is best and ordinary in humanity, showed us who and what God is.
Believers and unbelievers, mystics and agnostics, all are familiar with the language of Christmas – stars and angels, gifts and best wishes, family and eating together, peace. People feel its tug as they wrap it up in words and symbols, in carefully chosen gifts and houses decorated in bud lights. Their greetings reach across the world and close in around the wonder, and the challenge, of family.
“The Word was made flesh and lived among us. . . and the world did not know him.” Be gentle with their unknowing. Your life and your words can untie the God-chimes and bring the Word of God to new life this Christmas.