RECENTLY, THE BOOK I wished to read, though not available in our local library, could be obtained from another library.
The book was published in 1954 and was last taken from the library in 1966. Upon reading it and wishing to own the book, I asked if that library would sell it to me; after all, it had been 47 years between its prior removal and my request. I was quite prepared to pay much more than the library would obtain from a sale of non-circulating books.
But No! It was against policy. A memorable phrase is used several times in the book: “It would be an error in judgment.” By other means I was able to obtain the book; however, this is not the end of the story.
SOMETHING ABOUT this business “of the book” pushed my reflections sidewise onto an ocean of thought whose waters I had not previously plied. Bemused by that book’s hold upon me, I paid it the courtesy of a deeper reading – now an overture for further reflection on how any writer’s use of airy words rightly tilted can tell me things about myself previously undiscovered. But … and this is the rub: Do I wish to go there? British writer Jeanette Winterson, in an essay “A Veil of Words,” spells this out: “Do I want an act of clear seeing in a world that keeps its hands over its eyes?” You and I … are we up to that kind of reality? Do we want, she asks, for “words that wipe clean the dirt on the window-pane,” allowing us to see what we’ve never seen before? It is of “in-seeing” of which she writes. Words may seem as whisperings into the wind; nevertheless, like “the Spirit of God moving over the face of the waters” in Genesis, airy words rightly tilted have unfathomable powers when it comes to opening ourselves to ourselves. Words harnessed as metaphor can be a means of transformation.
POET CARL SANDBURG, certainly a credentialed wordsmith, once mused in a verse piece that words were “made of syllables and syllables…are made of air – and air is so thin – air is the breath of God.” Fashioning something from words, I think, am I “wording” with the breath of God? What value then am I to assign to these whisperings into the wind…for that is where my words first go? As a minister I have been through the years a kind of smithy working with words. It has been my vocation to forge together words and phrases…to the end that together they can bear the freight of such cargo as shall serve both God and those whose lives impinge upon my own. I have bent words to say what might otherwise not be said…purposefully hammering and twisting speech so that what gets said is memorably spoken…so more easily remembered and recalled.
WORDS FALL FROM my lips and pen broadside. At first, trying to tease them into a semblance of order, it sometimes seems as if I am trying to corral a caboodle of cats. Other times they just seem to stumble from my mind and heart like frightened birds. Soon out of sight…hopefully disappearing into those places where words lodge – the mind and spirit of whoever reads or hears them. But perhaps not…possibly they will be lost to the wind…neither be heard or “heart-saved,” finding no lodgment in those who for a few moments dwelt in the presence of these wind-whispers. Managing our words is certainly an act of faith for both writer and reader. No assumptions can be made regarding through what “lenses of sense” the reader will view the words; though the reader has the duty to seek carefully and reflectively what the writer is about. In the last, airy words…having dutifully claimed to some present purpose the attention of writer and reader, will like whisperings in the wind fade into thin air. It will be as it was with that book which had not been taken from the shelf since 1966.
THERE IS ANOTHER side to this business. Like you, so I too am a receiver of words. As you know, words inveigle their way into our lives by way of conversations, stories, poems and essays. Even a memorable phrase may stick like a cocklebur to our consciousness. When we reflect upon the gift of someone’s words, we pay honor to those who with this “breath of God” formed for our thought that which may have commandeered their own mind and spirit. With these others we then become each one a link in the chain of saved wind-whisperings…perhaps finding in those whisperings something we might one day wish to creatively resay to another – “respoken” in the idiom of a current need? There is a kind of poignant loveliness about these whisperings into the wind which for a few moments clarify the wonder of this life we have together.
WHEN OUR DAUGHTER and her husband flew from San Diego to Saco a few years ago so that I might baptize our last grandchild, Linnea, the gracious uplifting of that experience spilled over into these whisperings into the wind, “God’s Rain – Come down upon this child of grace! Slanting Water – Drench her in a flood of love and beauty! Living Water – Be in this child an ever-flowing spring welling up to Eternal Life! May we all lift up our parched and depleted spirits for this drenching of God’s Rain! Amen. Amen.” This prayer I have forged from airy word, and would if I could…save it against the ruination of the years.
BUT IT WILL NOT BE! The prayer may seem a minor thing and argue too easily for God’s gracious looking-after this child. Those words I whispered into the wind. I must let them go. They were a grandfather’s heart-shaped appeal made of air that is the breath of God. They were words that honored life’s bent toward the good, affirming my conviction that all life is held in the loving care of a prayer-hearing God. Those ephemeral whisperings pled grace and light for living. Is this not what we all desire – light upon our way? Was not Jesus God’s speech about himself becoming incarnate in time as a light upon our way? A final question: Will our whisperings into the wind…be gracious speech giving joy and light to those who hear us?
The Rev, Merle G. Steva, Minister of Visitation Emeritus, First Parish Church, Saco