Words Are Power: Introduction From You Are What You Say
As a child, whenever I wished aloud for someone’s
death, my mother, ever the romantic moralist, told me a story out of
the days of her early marriage. She and my father had lived in the
lower part of a two-flat apartment. The young woman upstairs was
frustrated and often angry about a colicky baby. One day, in a passion
she complained, “I hate that child! I wish he would die!”
soon after this outburst, the infant did die—a crib death; and when the
bereaved woman next saw my mother she sobbed, “I didn’t mean what I
said. I didn’t mean it—I didn’t want my baby to die.”
point was that I should never say I hated anyone, that I should never
wish anyone’s death. The possibility was all too real that something
tragic might occur to the hated person. Death had a way of sneaking in;
then we would be left to deal with the guilt and grief from our own
But as a child I wove richer fabric from my
mother’s tale (and I heard the story frequently because I was inclined
to pronounce curses upon the heads of friends who disenchanted me; a
restrained inclination still, I concluded that words, words in
themselves, are powerful.
Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet, wrote:
first poems I knew were nursery rhymes, and before I could read them
for myself I had come to love just the words of them; the words alone.
What the words stood for, symbolized, or meant, was of very secondary
importance. What mattered was the sound of them … and these words were,
to me, as the notes of bells, the sound of musical instruments, the
noises of wind, sea, and rain, the rattle of milk-carts, the clopping
of hooves on cobbles, the fingering of branches on a window pane … I
did not care what the word said, overmuch, nor what happened to Jack
and Jill and the Mother Goose rest of them; I cared for the shapes of
sound that their names made in my ears; I cared for the colours the
words cast on my eyes.
From a purely technical
viewpoint, every good writer knows that certain words—and certain
sounds in words—evoke emotional responses in the human soul. Gerard
Manley Hopkins, a major poet in Victorian England, experienced a
spiritual crisis in 1866 that eventually led him to become a Jesuit
priest. Read these words slowly; best of all, read them out loud.
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name.
Rhythm, cadence, repetition, the round sound of O’s—somehow the human heart leans, yearning toward this kind of verbal beauty.
In the book Writing the Natural Way: Using Right-Brain Techniques to Release Your Expressive Power,
the author, Gabriele Rico, maintains that the right hemisphere of the
brain is the seat of design, and repetitive patterns of language evoke
a powerful and satisfying response from the right brain:
words, sounds, images … have the same powerful effect that a recurring
melody has in music, recurring foliage in a landscape, recurring colors
in a painting; we react to them emotionally. In language, we are more
likely to remember recurring patterns—for example, “of the people, by
the people, for the people …” from the Gettysburg Address—because of
their powerful effect on the right brain. For this reason, much
persuasive writing, and especially speeches, contain recurrences …
learning to use recurrences—the meaningful
repetition of words, images, ideas, phrases, sound, objects or actions
throughout a piece of writing empowers it because of the right
hemisphere of the brain’s response to it.
words have become for me a substitute for Valium—the antidepressant
drug. If people could only learn to take words instead of pills!
* * * * *
This is part of the introduction that I wrote for my book the publishers named You Are What You Say.
Re-reading the book, now out of print, I thought about how much this
message is needed in a world that no longer believes in the power of
David has started a monthly discussion group
with people of good minds in order to jointly tackle the issues of the
day and not to necessarily come to conclusions but to engage in
intelligent conversation. Our first topic centered on gay marriage. As
a minister, licensed to conduct marriages, he felt he needed to
carefully consider his response in the possibility that he would one
day be asked to marry a gay couple. A story circulating on the Internet
told about a pastor in Vermont who had refused to do so and was
sentenced to one year in jail. In addition, we’ve heard about this
incident from a variety of sources—most of them concerned ordained
pastors. One of the group members checked it on Snopes.com, the
urban-legends-debunking site. No pastor by that name exists in the
little town of Proctor (which is about the only thing that does exist).
No judge who supposedly made the ruling. It is all fictitious. Well,
you get the idea.
live in an era where individuals and organizations lie with impunity
(and then are a little shocked when their lies appear on the
Internet—go figure). We live in times where one’s word is one’s bond is
no longer considered a virtue. We live in an age where politicians
running for the presidency call one another names in public forums.
believe this issue is so important (the issue of words being
powerful—yeah, even sacred) for our days that I am going to spend the
next few months in issues of Soulish Food
teaching on this topic. The goal is to eventually develop a Webinar
that will help people come to terms with the way they use and misuse
words, with the way their words have become profane, as profane often
as the way the secular world uses words, then how Scripture is the
powerful cure for a troublesome tongue.
Journey with me,
won’t you? Let’s begin with these few warning fragments from Proverbs,
that collection of wise sayings from the Old Testament. Take them to
heart: “The babbling of a fool
brings ruin near … with his mouth the godless man would destroy his
neighbor … by the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but it is
overthrown by the mouth of the wicked … a gentle tongue is a tree of
life but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” (10:14; 11:9, 11: ; 15:4)
One Eight-Hour Guided Advent Retreat of Silence at Turtle Creek Acres in McHenry, Illinois
[FIREPLACE PHOTO TO BE INSERTED]
Do you feel as though your own personal light is dimming, or flickering, or maybe in danger of being extinguished?
Mains Timberlake, a trained and certified life coach has opened her
lovely barn-house, Turtle Creek Acres, for a small one-day guided
retreat for people who need time to renew, but can’t get away for
several days or even for 24 hours. “So many of the people I coach feel
as though they are being overwhelmed by the circumstances they are
facing in their lives.” Melissa pulled this quote from her journal: “At
times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another
person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who
have lighted the flame within us. –A. Schweitzer”
Mains and Melissa Timberlake will be facilitators for this retreat of
silence and would be delighted to encircle you in place of calm, of
quiet, of beauty and of peace. We want to examine how we can learn to
draw light from the One whom Scripture tells us is the Light of the
World. How can we learn to renew ourselves in His flame?
is room for 40 people on Wednesday and on the alternate Saturday
retreat day. Stay-over plans are in the works for the few who might
like to have a quiet night and early breakfast in a nearby inn and in
order to continue the renewal conversation at Turtle Creek the next
The cost is $150 per day per retreatant. If you are interested in a day schedule and more details, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will send you a registration form and hope to see you in the yellow
barn home, backlit by the roaring fire, the rooms all decorated for
Christmas with endless nooks and crannies and lofts for private prayer
and journaling. We’ll eat lunch together in silence and find the
never-ending hot chocolate bar. We’ll walk in the woods and along paths
in the marsh in order to sort out thoughts; we’ll listen to the cry of
the sand hill cranes, leave for home after the bonfire beside the front
paddock, but not before we have sundowners (hot cider or hot rum
toddies). Our meditation will be on the prologue from John 1, verses
1-14, which we will encourage you to memorize before you come.[PHOTO BELOW TO BE REPLACED WITH NEW 3]
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want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to www.HungrySouls.org.
"We live in an era
where individuals and organizations lie with impunity (and then are a
little shocked when their lies appear on the Internet—go figure). We
live in times where one’s word is one’s bond is no longer considered a
virtue. We live in an age where politicians running for the presidency
call one another names in public forums."
You Are What You Say
by Karen Mains
In last month’s Soulish Food,
I lamented the fact that the publisher had let this book go out of
print. I suggested that with some 30 pre-order donations of $30.00, I
would be able to give the book to a print-on-demand company and
re-release it into the market place. To my great delight, some dear
friends donated $300 to underwrite that project. Needless to say, I am
The need for pre-order donations is still on the table, however. I would like to re-title the book Medicine for Mouth Disease (marketing committees can be a little cautious about authors’ title suggestions); the subtitle would be something like How Your Troublesome Tongue Provides a Diagnosis for the State of Your Soul.
This means we will have to redo the cover design and the back-cover
copy and some interior edits. Your pre-orders (one book per each $30
donation) will provide extra funds to not only mail the books to you
when they are printed, but to underwrite the cover and title redesign.
Thanks so much for helping. We need 30 donations of $30.00 each to
underwrite the rest of this project; a receipt can be given for the
donation. A check sent snail mail to Hungry Souls, Box 30, Wheaton, IL 60187 will put your name on the re-publishing mail list and your money in the bank account dedicated to special print projects.