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Issue 14-9

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!”

Very 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.”

Mother’s 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 words.

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:

The 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:

Recurring 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.

Beautiful 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 words.

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, 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.

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.

I 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, 11:11; 15:4)

Karen Mains


One Eight-Hour Guided Advent Retreat of Silence at Turtle Creek Acres in McHenry, Illinois

Fireside Christmas Tree at Turtle Creek Acres

Do you feel as though your own personal light is dimming, or flickering, or maybe in danger of being extinguished?

Melissa 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”

Karen 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?

There 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 morning.

The cost is $150 per day per retreatant. If you are interested in a day schedule and more details, email 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.

Neverending-Hot-Chocolate Bar

Sunset Over Skating Rink

Old Sleds Outside Stable

Karen's Blogs

Karen is blogging three times a week in the new year and also posting regularly on her Facebook page. Blog address is This week's blogs are "Fixing Things Up," "Sleep Saga" and "Wedding Boxes."


The Soulish Food e-mails are being posted biweekly on the Hungry Souls Web site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to register on the Web site to receive the biweekly newsletter. You might want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to

Karen Mains

Karen Mains

"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 deeply grateful.

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.

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