26 March 2012

mud and glory and thoughtful words

{image credit: highlandarma}
On a recent sunny afternoon, I walked out barefoot-- first time in months-- and pulled a heap of weeds out of my newly sprouted flowerbeds. It was glorious.

I don't make that assertion of glory lightly. It's perfectly serious. I saw real glory there in the gentle sunlight and the many-speared lily leaves pushing through dark soil. Glory of the Creator's presence. I could feel His pleasure in the world's hesitant springtime beauty, the lacy clover roots and delicate purple deadnettles. I could sense His power in the tendrils of green life surging through mud and rock. Oh, glorious indeed.

But so often, I've used that term thoughtlessly.

I have mused a lot lately upon the meaning of my words and how careless I am with what comes out of my mouth. I have become verbally slothful. And to be frank, I'm tired of this watered-down language, where words that once signified an idea rounded and weighty are tossed about like empty shells.

For example, when I say something is amazing . . . do I A) intend to employ the full strength of amazing at that moment, or B) have something else more nuanced and less dramatic in mind, and lazily use amazing as a shorthand for that thought? Usually Option B. "That sale on avocados was absolutely amazing." Er, no it wasn't. Sixty-nine cents is an impressive discount on the usual price; this sale made me very happy, because guacamole is my friend; I was pleasantly surprised to run across this sale, excited that I would have an unexpected supply of avocados that week. Despite all that, though, nothing at that avocado display amazed me. I probably thought about it for ten minutes max and then proceeded with my day.

However, because I don't care to exert myself in order to articulate my real thought ("That avocado sale was a rare one, and the store didn't even advertise it, so finding out was a great surprise, like spotting a piece of sea glass in gravel") I just say it was absolutely amazing.

Blah. What a boring way to talk! I have more words than that in my head, so why don't I use them? Why don't I think?


This-here train of thought lurched into motion during church a few weeks back; I think the point that so impressed me was a mere sidenote in the sermon, but sometimes rabbit trails are the most memorable. The rabbit trail in question concerned taking the Lord's name in vain. Now, I'm no cusser, though thus far in my life, that is probably due to fear of embarrassment more than to real conviction. (The truth would come out, I suppose, if I lived in a foulmouthed environment rather than among decent Christian folk.) Be that as it may, I keep it pretty clean. Yet I do use various words to emphasize my exclamations, such as "gosh, look at that raincloud" and "jeez, it's so freaking cold outside!" Well, after that sermon, I started to ponder my words pretty hard.

Fact: terms like these only have force because of what they once were, those original crude or profane intentions. I mean, there's a reason we say "oh, darn" and not "oh, saltines" when we drop our cell phones! I've always known this truth, but pretended to ignore it. Surely by using these tame versions, I could separate myself from the foul meaning at the root. Or . . . maybe not. I mentioned watered-down language above. Could it be that I've watered down profanity, then swallowed the concoction with a smile?

That bothers me. A lot. God seems to be poking at my heart and saying "Rebekah, time to stop your sloppy speech. Time to think about what you say. Time to shape each breath with care, for my glory and not your convenience."

When I mentioned this to a friend, she asked, "Well, then what will you use as interjections?"

I considered. "Nothing, I guess."

It's true. I don't need those words at all, not even the funny substitutions like "horsefeathers" or "puddleduck" (though I certainly enjoy using those terms, and probably will continue to do so with great glee). Like I'm always telling my writing students, let your words pack the punch. Don't rely on exclamation points to communicate energy. To my chagrin, I have become accustomed to using my "tamed curse words" as exclamation points, booster rockets for lame language, rather than articulating what I really mean in the first place.

I don't intend to become a legalist about this. Odds are, I'm still going to sling weighty words carelessly; I'm still going to say "today was the worst day ever!!" and "I love Dijon mustard so darn much." So no finger-wagging in either direction: I shan't be policing anyone, and I don't expect to be policed. This post's purpose is not to lay down laws, nor-- even though I have come to certain convictions myself-- to suggest that everybody should follow suit. It's intended to stir up some reflection. To talk about how we use language, how much we care about the correspondence between our intent and our words. And when it comes to diluted cussing, how seriously we take holiness.

What do you think?

Mud is very nice to feel
All squishy squashy between the toes!
I'd rather wade in wiggly mud
Than smell a yellow rose.
Nobody else but the rosebush knows
How nice mud feels between the toes.


  1. Remembering reading the Polly Chase Boyden poem to the you....


  2. Oh, that's who it was! I couldn't find the author.

    I remember that one and "the bushes look like popcorn balls..." and "hippity hop to bed..." oh, and "when I wake in the morning early!"

  3. Matthew Taylor27 March, 2012 12:52

    If you start articulating your whole thought, you'll have to use more words, not just better words, of which you give a striking example. That means quick conversations last longer than we habitually prefer. More importantly it challenges your partner in conversation to match your eloquence with an equivalent wisdom of his own, or else give up the pleasure of talking with you. I've found the best way to put yourself in the habit of lengthy conversation is to read Shakespeare's plays, from which you can draw many valuable lessons.