Surprise Me…Some Reflections on WORDS

The assignment is….words. What to say, what to say? Words are gifts; words are weapons. Words are powerful; words are stumblingly flimsy. Words are mysterious; words are crystal clear. Words.Words.Words.


We’re told in Genesis that the power of word is what called the universe into being. We’re told in John’s gospel that Jesus is the word. And in and around those two seminal places in our sacred text, we find thousands and thousands of words – words that help and heal and words that convict and condemn. Words that puzzle and confuse and words that clarify and define. Words that invite us in and words that remain removed from us. Words that paint glorious pictures of real life and words that feel distant from our day-to-day 21st century living. And most of all…we find words that surprise, astonish, mystify, overwhelm, move and transform us. We find words combined into stories, combined in such a way as to startle us into truth. Words that prick us and poke us and cause us to sigh with recognition. And in the middle of those words, we meet a story-telling God whose stories literally tell us.

And it’s those words that leap off the page. Those Spirit-powered, flame-driven words that bring a flash of light, a moment of ‘aha!,’ a shifting of our inner emotional space, making room for truth and love and grace. When we come to these words in an attitude of openness, we discover that we are there, participants in God’s story of love and rescue. We, too, have bitten into forbidden fruit and paid the price for it; we, too, have wandered through the wilderness, wondering where we’ll land; we, too, have been overwhelmed by a task, only to discover that God is able, that God is faithful; we, too, have been lost and then found.

These words that surprise us, that begin their unsettling, stir-the-pot work in us – these are words that ask more of us than to simply smile in recognition, and shake our heads at the vagaries of human willfulness. These words do their work in us when we let the surprise work its way from our heads and hearts to our hands and feet. This is the power of words, of The Word in us – we find ourselves living life differently, living life newly, living life for Jesus’ sake. And for that to happen, those words must shinny on down into that place where bone and marrow meet. And there are – of course! – some old-fashioned, often hackneyed words that tell us that part of the story, too. Words like: conversion, repentance, obedience. Because, you see, we are continual works in progress; we are ever pilgrims on the way; we are always “being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) And that remarkable transformation begins with…words…

The pictures accompanying this brief essay were selected because of the gift of surprising beauty they represent. It had been a long, tiring day – much of it fun and meaningful – but…tiring, nonetheless. My almost 90-year-old mom is slowly getting smaller and frailer and somehow less of herself and we had spent the day together – eating lunch, redecorating her tiny apartment (at least in our heads!), seeing a remarkable movie (“The King’s Speech”) and talking about the pain and loss of the last few years since my dad’s and brother’s deaths. She had given me a gift card for Christmas – to a department store that is near her home, which is 115 miles south of mine. So I stopped there on my way back to see what I could find. It was almost 5:00 p.m and getting dark in the southern California sky and I spent the next 30 minutes finding some t-shirts on sale and one really pretty new skirt. I came out, bag in hand, even more tired than when I went in. And lo and behold – there was this sky. Right there in the middle of rush hour traffic in busy eastern Los Angeles county, surrounded by parking lot lights and screeching cars: glorious, beautiful SURPRISE. I grabbed my Canon 20D and behaved like a 10 year old at the county fair for the next 10 minutes or so. Transformed, you see. Transformed from a tired sixty-something, worried daughter of an aging mother to a jubilant, grateful, worshipful daughter of an Almighty and surprising God. I think that’s my word for 2011: surprise! It’s a great one!

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