Letter from Poland 17
October 25, 2011
Why do our words so often fall short of saying all that we want to say ? Sure there are times, may God forgive us, when we intentionally tell lies or half-truths in order to hide our less than honorable motives. But even when we are trying to be truthful, words are like notes in a musical score or drops of water in a stream. They push forward, dying to give birth to the next word or drop, and the process is repeated again and again until the stream merges with the ocean as does Smetana’s Moldau. If we stop the flow, we lose touch with the river greater than the sum of its tributaries. If we don’t slow down, we lose the contribution each note makes.
I am sure many poets have said this infinitely better than I ever could, and you are more than welcome to point them out to me. But I cannot be them and they cannot be me. Great writers should inspire us not to be silent out of a sense of false humility but to speak more deeply in our own voices. Someone once told me that she never felt like writing letters more than after reading a good book. Now that’s an original idea : enter the flow but be yourself.
When the Word became flesh, his words became living words that never die. They give eternal life to those who believe in him not so much because his ideas are interesting for cocktail conversation (although they are that too) but because they issue forth from the mouth of God and do not return to him until they have accomplished what they set out to do, which is to save us sinners. Jesus never claimed to be original but to speak only the words revealed to him by the Father. What set him free to speak to all of us in such a commanding way was his utter obedience to the Father, obedience unto death. The final words of a dying person are often held to be precious by those who hear them. When Jesus died, everything he said while alive became precious. When he rose from the dead, those words were ratified and proven to be life saving. Not only do they fulfill every jot and tittle of the Law but every good desire, no matter how small, in the name of Jesus. Is it not comforting to believe that Jesus will one day call each of us by name as he did Mary Magdalene on that first Easter ?
Flannery O’Connor once wrote that she was impressed by the story of a woman who read the entire Bible 26 times during her lifetime, always kneeling while she read. When he was on his deathbed, Pope John Paul II asked a close friend from Poland to read the Gospels to him constantly. For believers, the Word of God is more than an appreciation of literary techniques although God doesn’t mind if we study those too. But Jesus had very harsh words for the scribes who stopped at the written word. They could not see, let alone hear, the Word made flesh standing before them.
Yes, the Bible is an anti-book book. The words fly off the page : we know neither where they come from or where they are going. No amount of biblical scholarship will ever pin them down within our limited understanding. St. Therese of Lisieux treasured those few books of the Bible she was permitted to have and even more the Gospels her sister Celine hand copied and snuck into the convent for her. Therese hoped to study Hebrew one day. How can we, who have so many translations and commentaries readily available to us, waste one minute in not reading them ?
I end with a paradox. John ends his gospel with : “There is much else that Jesus did. If it were all to be recorded in detail, I suppose the whole world would not hold the books that would be written.” Revelation ends with the warning : “Should anyone add to the words of prophecy in this book, God will add to him the plagues described in this book ; should anyone take away from the words in this book of prophesy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and the Holy City, described in this book.”
I am entirely happy to hold my tongue and read nothing but the Word of God, especially as it is woven into the Divine Office and the Mass, but after these blessings, who can remain silent ? Even the stones would shout.
Yours in Christ,
P.S. Thank you all for your prayers for Jan Smolka. They are a great comfort. Kuba has returned to his teaching, Ela to her babysitting and we to our renovating (soon to end). Although we keep busy, a deep emptiness is in our hearts still as we miss not being able to share our joys and tribulations with Jan.