--From a sermon by Saint Augustine
In a letter earlier this autumn, a friend wrote of his frustration with human communication. Isn't it terrible, he wrote (and I paraphrase), that I could speak for hours at a fly, buzzing around my room, and never be able to induce it to leave. No matter how many words I would volley at the insect, it would remain irremovable.
But, if my brother walks into the room, one harsh word on my part could effectively push him away from me. One cruel word could send him out the door. Or, not even an intentionally hurtful word, but simply a misplaced, ill-timed, or misunderstood word.
Words do not possess a material power. They cannot induce the natural, non-sentient world to action (or can they?), they cannot move matter. But they can move a human's spirit. Sometimes far too easily.
Humans are so susceptible to injury through words. And, often, the injury is not intentional. Our days are fraught with miscommunication and misunderstanding, most of it harmless enough. But some of it can cause us, like my friend, to wonder what is wrong with humans. Why is our primary mode of communion and communication so prone to mishap?
Not to glibly glide by that very important question, but we live in a broken world polluted with violence, sin, and chlorine molecules eating up the ozone layer, so what can you really expect? If I do myself the favor of stopping to ponder the human condition, I am surprised that humanity's communication mechanism is so prone to error, and recognize that this strange fact invites further pondering. But, here, we will simply accept that our inability to communicate well is our participation in the broken cosmos, and continue on.
Because, what is more interesting than the failure of communication, is its success. The fact that human beings can share a common language, when we are all living such radically different narratives, is nothing short of a miracle. The fact that we can find common touchstones of experience, and give name to them, and then speak those words to others, and those words resonate deeply inside the other person, who understands them is quite astonishing.
Communication is so perilous. What you say is so apt to be misconstrued. And what you say has the power to hurt or the power to heal. Opening your mouth is a dangerous business, Frodo, as Gandalf might warn us.
So the Christian narrative is quite astounding, because the eternal Logos humbled Himself, and took upon the faulty, limited mantle of human speech. The Word spoken before time began came into our world and spoke with us. He did a lot of things, as well, and performed many signs and wonders. And, finally, offered Himself up for us, descending to the darkest sufferings of human existence, out of love for us. That He might speak to us from every corner of human experience.
But, then He ascended back to Heaven. He had moved forward, opening up for humanity a new ontological state: a new form of existence with God.
And what did He leave us? A lot of words.
I mean, He left us more than that. A Church, and His Body hidden inside a wafer of bread. But.
How are we to understand what He left us without the words that teach us the meaning of what we see, of what we taste, of what we touch?
What a terribly fragile method of communion to rely upon: to leave salvation of the entire earth to twelve men and three years of words you spoke to them.
And what did these twelve men do?
They simply spoke.
They didn't conquer nations.
They didn't really do all that much,
except proclaim the Word.
And the hearts of those who heard them leapt for Joy, like the Baptist in the womb of Elizabeth.
And somehow that was enough.
As the faithful pass the holy water from hand to hand,
So we faithful, we must pass the word of God from heart to heart.
From hand to hand, from heart to heart, we must pass the divine Hope.
--Portal of the Mystery of Hope, Charles Peguy