The Power of Words

~Bob Wallace

Over the past few weeks we have been following the stories of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs of our faith – men and women who heard a promise spoken from beyond their everyday lives and who committed their futures to the fulfillment of that promise.

That promise has been transferred from generation to generation through what the text calls a “blessing” – words spoken, accompanied by specific actions, transferring the promise from one generation to the next. And once spoken, those words cannot be recalled. There is, then, a power in words … a power to shape and define, to create and destroy.

This year’s encounters with racism reminds us again of the power of words – words used to deny, to hurt, to enslave, to harm. The old adage: “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!” is a lie! Words can hurt. Words can destroy, words can deny futures. Words are powerful.

In fact, from a biblical perspective, the power of words lies in the capacity to share (or deny) future. Such power lies in the spoken words and accompanying actions of blessing.

Walter Brueggemann writes of these stories we are reading:

(they) offer a fresh discernment of the nature of power. … (they) understand that power, the capacity to shape the future, lies not in weapons and arms, but in the use of language, gesture, and symbol.”

[Interpretation: Genesis, p. 228]

As we continue our journey through these stories, look for the way in which the stories talk about the power and use of words and the gestures that accompany those words. It is my belief that these stories, heard as promises not only to those who have gone before, but as continuing promises spoken to us, empower us to discover our new future, a future filled with promises of life in all its fullness rather than despair.

More than anything, then, these words empower us to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that “God is with us. We are not alone.” And in that power, we are claimed once again as beloved children of our God.

And, from a world before we were concerned with gender issues in language, here’s a quote from Sigmund Freud.

Words have a magical power. They can bring either the greatest happiness or deepest despair; they can transfer knowledge from teacher to student; words enable the orator to sway his audience and dictate its decisions. Words are capable of arousing the strongest emotions and prompting all men’s actions.

Sigmund Freud