THE POWER OF THE WORD
The Gospels tell us that every person is capable of a definite inner evolution in his or her understanding. This can be accomplished through a power called God's grace, a power available to everyone, through which each person can become transformed in consciousness. Some spiritual writers, at least those in the western Judeo-Christian tradition refer to this result as a conversion, like becoming a new person. Some Christian refer to the experience as something that can be likened to being born again. New Testament commentators, considered nowadays as somewhat sexist, refer to it as putting on the new "Adam".
The Gospels also detail what someone who has reached this extraordinary new level of consciousness would think, and feel, and do. Taking our lead from our spiritual forebears, consider our thinking. "Thinking" is an idea which is difficult to define. However one defines the idea, thinking is taken to involve speaking. At least, our speech, or the spoken word, is accepted by most as embodying our thoughts. While there might be some question how accurately or fully our words represent our thinking, it is yet agreed by most that our words are an attempt to give outward expression to our thoughts. Thus, it may not be so far fetched to say that a word is a thought made flesh.
Earlier, I casually linked thinking with feeling and action. Some early Christian preachers, most notably the founder of Christian Science, noted that disharmony among the three could lead to ill health. More recent psychological practice, especially among those who practice Rational Emotive Therapy, have presented evidence to show that a serious disharmony between any two of these three can result not only in mental and emotional distress but also in physical illnesses like heart attacks, gastro-intestinal disordersdiscomfort, and certain extreme personality disorders like the multiple-personality-syndrome.
Returning to our spiritual theme, the "holy" person, in the light of what I have just been saying about the interrelatedness of thinking, feeling and action, is "holy" in the sense of being one whose thinking, feeling and actions are harmonious. This personal wholeness, as constituting holiness, however, is for a spiritual purpose rather than solely for a worldly or materialistic purpose.
There is much power in wholeness, and the danger to us is that this power will develop in us a propensity for greed and lust that can bring us little peace of mind and much unhappiness. For this reason, the Evangelists exhort us to repent, for, the kingdom of heaven, they preach, is at hand. Mental, emotional, physical well-being can be ours now. All we have to do is change our attitudes. Repent. As I understand the use of the word "repent" in the scriptures, it means to change one's thinking, one's ideas, to change the way we look at ourselves, others, the world, and our relationships to each other and to the universe, as well as to change the way we think about God and our relationship to God.
The Evangelists claimed to know a way to a better life, and the chief means to the better life is is not simply prayer, or sacrifices to the Gods, but to change one's attitude. An attitude is something very realy, very tangible, very visible. It shows up in the way we talk to each other, the words we choose, the beliefs we hold, the way we think about ourselves and others, the way we act and feel towards one another, towards ourselves, towards God. Is it possible that if one sincerely and profoundly changed his idea of God, he could indeed affect his whole life, ensure his health, his peace of mind, his material prosperity.
Consider the real possibility that our thinking does shape our lives, and that our thinking is not only reflected in our words but that words themselves carry the power of our thinking. What kinds of words are there? In general, there are two kinds, namely our inner words, our silent, unspoken thoughts. The kind of words we use in that incessessant daily dialogue that goes on in our heads. The other kind of word is the spoken word, the words of our daily discourse. Silent or spoken, we claim that these words that occupy our thoughts and speech are not without powerful consequences in shaping our experiences and the quality of our lives.
There is yet another important kind of word, the outward, nonspoken word, what are called gestures, signs and symbols. The gesture to be silent, the gesture to stand-up, the sign in buildings forbidding cigarette smoking. So when speaking of the word, we mean to include this wide variety of mental expressions.
To return to our major theme, consider what one spiritual writer has said:
"though we are continually being hurt owing to the narrowness of the reality in which we dwell, we blame life, and do not see the necessity of finding absolutely new standpoints. All ideas that have a transforming power change our sense of reality. They act like ferments. But they necessarily lead us in the direction of affirmation. To see more wholly, more comprehensively, requires affirmation, an assent to the existence of new truth?" (Nicoll, Living Time).
Every word, sign or symbol, spoken or unspoken, originates from an idea and the power of that word, sign or symbol is in the idea (or more strictly speaking the image that the idea evokes). As Genesis suggests, everything that is created is created according to an IMAGE. The world and all its creatures, including us, are created according to an idea, and that idea is an image of God, of God as the Creator without equal.
Our lives, likewise, are created according to our own personal ideas, and those ideas are images we hold in our minds. It can then be reasonably argued that we create our own personal circumstances by our words, either privately in silence by the internal dialogue of our own minds, or publicly in the presence of an audience as we speak our minds.
Meditation can contribute to this internal mental dialogue, by increasing the degree to which we concentrate on an idea, thus giving to the idea thus fixated greater power. Inasmuch as our thoughts are things, they can be manipulated. Much can happen in silence, on the inner plane. Our deepest thoughts can become known to us. Then we can decide what to do about them, once we become aware of them. For example we can cast out, by denial, all undesirable thoughts, and plant, by affirmation, all good thoughts, thus creating for ourselves a world of beauty and harmony. Remember, Jesus and his disciples preached that true beauty and harmony are of the mind, and as such are an inner, or spiritual, experience, not an external or environmental condition.
Nothing I have said so far is new. The Greek philosophers apparently were interested in the metaphysics I have been postulating. In the Greek texts of St. John's Gospel the word "word" is "Logos", which literally translated means REASONABLE SPEECH. These early metaphysicians taught that God or Mind or Logos made all things in the beginning and all things created are thereby the perfect results of the power of Mind, or the power of the Word, or the Logos, at work.
St. John (1;1) says: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He knew whereby he was speaking. After all, he was not a fisherman or tradesman.
Here we have a strong expression of the relationship between the word and the creative power (or God working in and through all material and spiritual creation).
Jesus, of course, brought us words that were never given before, words or ideas which changed a world. He attempted to change the way men and women treat each other - even though we may think these changes have yet along way to go to achieve the ideal of the example Jesus modeled for us.
In the same way in which the Gospeller refers to Jesus as the Word of God made flesh, we too are the word of God made flesh. In Proverbs (18;21) we read: LIFE AND DEATH ARE IN THE POWER OF THE TONGUE.
The Evangelists challenge us to radically change our personality, to experience a rebirth, to accept a new idea of God and thereby to profoundly alter our lifestyle. This we can do because we have been given the power to choose our ideas and to act or not act on ideas presented us, to accept or reject or put them aside for future reference. This power is at least part of what we mean by freedom of will. This freedom of choice carries with it the consequence that we shall bring into manifestation the conditions corresponding to the sort of personality we accept as a normal standard, in reality, what we accept as normal for ourselves.
The challenge presented to us is to recognize that our own creative thought-power externalizes conditions representative in our ideas. If you accept this challenge, then meditation takes on new importance, for without it the inner life of thought is at risk of constant befuddlement, and hence subject to impotence.
I would recommend that you spend at least ten to fifteen minutes each day meditating upon manyh of the ideas laid down in the Scriptures, especially those ideas that represent conditions of character that we want to manifest in our lives, to fill our minds with words of health, life, goodness, words that would impregnate our speech, our feelings, and our actions.
I would urge you to recognize that your word is law, a law of nature, unfolding in your life, not because you want it be so, or by some mental exercise you might be able to force it be so, but because that is the nature of our ideas and of speech. Consider the words of the Gospel: AS THOU HAST BELIEVED, SO BE IT DONE TO THEE.
If this is so, it is not so because you believe it is so, or because Jesus had the power of making us believe it by saying it and producing miracles to convince people that he had this kind of power to make his words come true, but Jesus said it because God has made it so for all of us, that as we believe so will it be. This is the secret of the power of positive thinking.
Our words do not make God's laws lawful, but the word itself is a law of God. Words do what they do because God created the universe this way that our words have creative power, the power to heal, the power to destroy, the power to put down, the power to lift up, the power to inspire, the power to discourage. This is important for us to understand; many so-called healers and preachers have forgotten this and believed that their personal words made the law. Of course, some even stray so far from the truth as to believe that they personally have all the power, and not that the power comes from the proper exercise of God's words, especially those words that are true to God's laws as they are revealed to us through the sacred writings and teachings, as well as through our study of nature and science.
God's word has no intention for us other than the intention we give it. This means that there is nothing in the universe against us but ourselves. God is never against us, but always for us. It is our belief about God and God's intentions for us that can work against us.
Consider what Hebrews (3:19) says: They could not enter in because of unbelief, and the Psalmist (78:41): they...limited the holy one of Israel.
What follows is perhaps one of the best illustrations of what I have been talking about. It is the story of how a father, in this case, a Dr. Erikson, helped his son by an integrity of word, action and feeling that is unparallelled in my experience. His son had fallen and injured himself. Here, in his own words, is how Dr. Erikson responded to the incident.
Three year old Robert fell down the back stairs, split his lip, and knocked an upper tooth back into the maxilla. He was bleeding profusely and screaming loudly with pain and fright. His mother an I went to his aid. A single glance at him lying on the ground screaming, his mouth bleeding profusely and blood spattered on the pavement, revealed that this was an emergency requiring prompt and adequate measures.
No effort was made to pick him up. Instead, as he paused for breath for fresh screaming, I told him quickly, simply, sympathetically and emphatically, "that hurts awful, Robert. That hurts terrible."
Right then, without any doubt, my son knew that I knew what I was talking about. He could agree with me and he knew that I was agreeing completely with him. Therefore he could listen respectfully to me, because I had demonstrated that I understood that situation fully. (When helping a child like this), there is no more important problem than so speaking to the patient that he can agree with you and respect your intelligent grasp of the situation as he judges it in terms of his own understandings.
Then I told Robert, "and it will keep right on hurting." In this simple statement, I named his own fear, confirmed his own judgment of the situation, demonstrated my good intelligent grasp of the entire matter and my entire agreement with him, since right then he could foresee only a life time of anguish and pain for himself.
The next step for him and for me was to declare, as he took another breath, "and you really wish it would stop hurting." Again, we were in full agreement and he was satisfied and even encouraged in this wish. And it was his wish, deriving entirely from within him and constituting his own urgent need. With the situation so defined, I could then offer a suggestion with some certainty of its acceptance. This suggestion was, "maybe it will stop hurting in a little while, in just a minute or two." This wags a suggestion in full accord with his own needs and wishes, and, because it wags qualified by a "maybe it will," it wags not in contradiction to his own understandings of the situation. Thugs he could accept the idea and initiate his responses to it.
As he did this, a shift was made to another important matter, important to him as a suffering person, and important in the total psychological significance of the entire occurrence -- a shift that in itself was important as a primary measure in changing and altering the situation.
Too often (when trying to help others), there is a tendency to overemphasize the obvious and to reaffirm unnecessarily already accepted suggestions, instead of creating an expectancy situation permitting the development of desired responses. Every boxer knows the disadvantage of overtraining; every salesman knows the folly of overselling. The same human hazards exist in giving helpful suggestions.
The next procedure with Robert was a recognition of the meaning of the injury to Robert himself--pain, loss of blood, body damage, a loos of the wholeness of his normal narcissistic self-esteem, of his sense of physical goodness so vital in human living.
Robert knew that he hurt, that he was a damaged person; he could see his blood upon the pavement, taste it in his mouth, and see it on his hands. And yet, like all other human beings, he too could desire narcissistic distinction in his misfortune, along with the desire even more for narcissistic comfort. Nobody wants a picayune headache; if a headache must be endured, let it be so colossal that only the sufferer could endure it. Human pride is so curiously good and comforting? Therefore Robert's attention was doubly directed to two vital issues of comprehensible importance to him by the simply statements, "that's an awful lot of blood on the pavement. Is it good, red, strong blood? Look carefully, mother, and see. It think it is, but I want you to be sure."
Thus there was an open and unafraid recognition in another way of values important to Robert. He needed to know that his misfortune was catastrophic in the eyes of others as well as his own, and he needed tangible proof that he himself could appreciate. By my declaring it bo be "an awful lot of blood," Robert could again recognize the intelligent appraisal of the situation in accord with his own actually unformulated, but nevertheless real, needs. The question about the goodness, redness, and strongness of the blood came into play psychologically meeting the personal meaningfulness of the accident to Robert. In a situation where one feels seriously damaged, there is an overwhelming need for a compensatory feeling of satisfying goodness. Accordingly, his mother and I examined blood upon the pavement, and we both expressed the opinion that it was good, red, strong blood. In this way we reassured him, but not on an emotionally comforting basis only; we did so upon the basis of an instructional, to him, examination of reality.
However, we qualified that favourable opinion by stating that it would be better if we were to examine the blood by looking at it against the white background of the bathroom sink. By this time Robert had ceased crying, and his pain and fright were no longer dominant factors. Instead, he was interested and absorbed in the important problem of the quality of his blood.
His mother picked him up and carried him to the bathroom, where water was poured over his face to see if the blood "mixed properly water" and gave it a "proper pink colour." Then the redness was carefully checked and reconfirmed, following which the"pinkness" was reconfirmed by washing him adequately, to Robert's intense satisfaction, since his blood was good, red, and strong, and made water rightly pink.
Then came the question of whether or not his mouth was "bleeding right" and "swelling right." Close inspection, to Robert's complete satisfaction and relief, again disclosed that all developments were good and right and indicative of his essential and pleasing soundness in every way.
Next came the question of suturing his lip. Since this could easily evoke a negative response, it was broached in a negative fashion to him, thereby precluding an initial negation by him, and at the same time raising a new and important issue. This was done by stating regretfully that, while he would have to have stitches taken in his lip, it was most doubtful if he could have as many stitches as he could count. In fact, it looked as if he could not even have ten stitches, and he could count to twenty. Regret was expressed that he could not have seventeen stitches, like his sister, betty alice, or twelve, like his brother, allan; but comfort was offered in the statement that he would have more stitches than his siblings bert, lance or carol. Thus the entire situation because transformed into one in which he could share with his older siblings a common experience with a comforting sense of equality and even superiority. In this way he was enabled to face the question of surgery without fear or anxiety, but with hope of high accomplishment in cooperation with the surgeon and imbued with the desire to do well the task assigned him, namely, to "be sure to count the stitches.: In this manner, no reassurances were needed, nor was there any need to offer further suggestions regarding freedom from pain.
Only seven stitches were required, to Robert's disappointment, but the surgeon pointed out the suture material was of a newer and better kind than any that his siblings had ever had, and the scar would have an unusual "w" shape, like the letter of his daddy's college. Thus the fewness of the stitches was well compensated.
Note: at no time was Robert given a false statement, nor was he forcibly reassured in a manner contradictory to his understandings. A community of understanding was first established with him and then, one by one, items of vital interest to him in his situation were thoughtfully considered and decided, either to his satisfaction or sufficiently agreeable to merit his acceptance. His role in the entire situation was that of an interested participant, and an adequate response was made to each idea suggested (Jay Haley, Uncommon Therapy, 189-192)
Experiencing The Word
For me, each one of us is the word of God made flesh. But more importantly we can also be the living word of God. We are the living word of God when we practice what we preach, when we walk as we talk, when our actions are living evidence of our faith, of what we truly believe.
As St. Paul said: That which I will I do not; that which I do I will not. I believe we all daily experience the same struggle to bring our actions in harmony with our will.
There are many books with suggestions how we might use words in ways which are more likely to promote our mental and emotional well-being and lay a sure foundation for spiritual growth. For example, the overly frequent use of expressions like must, should, ought, have to, reflect an obsessive-compulsive personality and can have a detrimental effect on our well-being. Use them only when appropriate. Do I have to go immediately to meet someone, or do I want to. Should I always be nice to everyone, or do I want to make every effort to pracitice kindness and courtesy. Likewise use the word "can't" only when appropriate, otherwise use expressions like "won't" or "don't want to".
Avoid cliches and aphorisms, like you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Or is it equally so that it's never too late to learn.
Is it look before you leap, or he who hesitates is lost.
Finally, take time to meditate, focusing your meditation on your words, are they living words of God, or words of death?
Are my words positive or negative? Are my words limiting or liberating? Are my words accurate or exaggerated? Are my words specific or vague? Is my thinking clear or muddy?
Let us vow to meditate that God's living words may be revealed to us and thus enrich not only our own lives but the lives of our neighbors.