Incarnate Words

About a year ago, I wrote a blog post pondering how God speaks. It’s still a topic I find endlessly fascinating, and fairly recently, I read Frederick Buechner’s memoir The Sacred Journey, where he says,

“If God speaks to us at all in this world, if God speaks anywhere, it is into our personal lives that he speaks. Someone we love dies, say. Some unforeseen act of kindness or cruelty touches the heart or makes the blood run cold. We fail a friend, or a friend fails us, and we are appalled at the capacity we all of us have for estranging the very people in our lives we need the most. Or maybe nothing extraordinary happens at all—just one day following another, helter-skelter, in the manner of days. We sleep and dream. We wake. We work. We remember and forget. We have fun and are depressed. And into the thick of it, or out of the thick of it, at moments of even the most humdrum of our days, God speaks.”

This sounds quite nice, and is certainly something I would like to believe—that God speaks and is present in all things, but I would be the first to admit that in my own life, I rarely sense it. What does it really mean to say that God speaks?

Buechner goes on to say that God speaks:

“…through events in all their complexity and variety, through the harmonies and disharmonies and counterpoint of all that happens. As to the meaning of what he says, there are times that we are apt to think we know. Adolph Hitler dies a suicide in his bunker with the Third Reich going up in flames all around him, and what God is saying about the wages of sin seems clear enough… But what is God saying through a good man’s suicide? … To try to express in even the most insightful and theologically sophisticated terms the meaning of what God speaks through the events of our lives is as precarious a business as to try to express the meaning of the sound of rain on the roof or the spectacle of the setting sun. But I choose to believe that he speaks nonetheless, and the reason that his words are impossible to capture in human language is of course that they are ultimately always incarnate words. They are words fleshed out in the everydayness no less than in the crises of our own experience.”

This seems like the truest description of God speaking that I have ever read. Often when I am asked about my walk with God, or what God is teaching me, I draw a blank. Sometimes, in the face of others who seem able to articulate their journeys with God quite clearly, this makes me feel guilty—that my faith is stagnant; perhaps I’ve only fooled myself into thinking I have faith at all.

And yet, looking back and even around me in the present, with eyes wide open, I think God is speaking, and my faith is unfurling at a slow pace, like the tiniest buds in springtime. It doesn’t happen in grand, sweeping moments but rather in the most minuscule ones.

I’ve mentioned before that this year, so far, has been difficult for me. For a couple months, I felt as if I no longer had any dreams or ambitions. I lost my appetite and, one night, thought that I would simply let myself starve to death.

This spring, I feel that I am slowly waking up to the world and taking interest in it again. That itself feels like the grace of God–my self coming alive again, like the dry bones Ezekiel sees in the desert.

Recently, I read Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book Half the Sky and felt anger at the injustices committed against women and girls around the world, who are not valued enough to be taken to doctors when sick or educated in schools, who are so often used as objects and left to die when their usefulness runs out. I remembered that I am a woman of empathy, and I can use that as a force for good in the world, to fight for my sisters in faraway countries for the right to live in freedom and health and wholeness.

At the same time, I read the Spring issue of Darling Magazine, which shaped the way I saw myself as a woman, in the many roles I play in this world—as dreamer, hostess, confidant, stylist, explorer, beautician, intellectual, and achiever. Each offers an opportunity to give of myself to the world, through beauty, brains, and generosity. Darling Magazine is the best women’s magazine I’ve ever read, because it feels like the advice of someone older and wiser, not telling you that you don’t measure up, but helping you grow into your own unique and confident self. (Check out their mission statement here: it’s beautiful.)

These things I read made a difference, but so did other moments of simple self-care and household cleaning:

Washing my dishes by hand, with warm water soaking my skin and the fresh, clean smell of soap.

Wiping my counters until the surfaces each shone.

Feeding myself breakfast in the morning.

Setting my plate, glass, and silverware for dinner and sitting down to a real meal.

Nothing of this was remarkable, and these are, perhaps, things all adults ought to be doing without much fuss. Yet for me, this spring, simple acts of caring for myself and my house have felt like a radical act of reclaiming my self, of saying that I am of value, when I had stopped believing I belonged anyplace in this world.

You could argue, of course, that this has nothing to do with God. Time moved away from my personal hardships; I chose to start taking better care of myself, and it made all the difference. Perhaps. God’s work in the world may be indistinguishable from mere coincidence, but I believe the threads that carry us through all align somewhere, that all that is beautiful and good in our world comes from an ultimate source that is love incarnate.

So, in the everyday, I think God speaks, and his words become visible through our subtle shifts in attitude, when we relish the gentleness of warm water, and those moments when we turn our eyes outside ourselves and feel compassion. If we pay attention, we just might see that nothing is outside the touch of God.

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One thought on “Incarnate Words

  1. Shirley Hendrickson

    Love it again, Anne. I agree that what God says is in our everyday living – trees budding, cool breezes caress my skin, a robin pulling a worm out of the dirt. 🙂 The feelings of my heart seeing/feeling all of this and more of the world that God gave us to live in until……

    Reply

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