Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Words are power!

Romano Guardini (1885-1968)

The quote below is by one of my favorite patron saints, Father Guardini. It is taken from his book, The Lord's Prayer (pp 30-31, Sofia Institute Press):

A word is something formed by sound, the vibration of the air, the movement of the lips and throat. But this describes only its most external aspect. "Word" is a many-layered thing. It is a body that also has a mind, a soul. Its "mind" is the meaning carried by the sound-form, the association of ideas that people have thought and expressed in the word. Its "soul" is the response it strikes in the heart...
What a fleeting thing a word is -- at one moment, not yet there, then spoken and come into being, to fade away immediately and disappear. Yet on closer scrutiny, we realize that it is not so. The words tree and book and friendship were in existence before I spoke them I did not create them; they were already there before I was born. I learned them from my parents and teachers. Words and their combination, namely, speech, are not only things the individual utters as the expression of his inmost being; they are also living symbols, forms of full meaning, in which being becomes audible; forms into which our existence is called so that it becomes intelligible and is in turn molded by them. We form words, and they form us. We are our language; it is as if it had a separate existence, confronting us and making us what we are. Language forms a world, an order of existence into which the individual is born and in which he lives. It envelops him, permeates him, forms him. Words reach down into our inmost being. We not only speak in words, but also think in them. If we examine the matter closely, we notice that our thoughts are clothed in words from their very first inception. Actually, we can think only in terms of speech, not otherwise. From the very roots of our being, we live in words and are made what we are by them. Words are the rails on which our lives run, the shapes of our existence. Words, fleeting forms though they be, are strong. They assert themselves with incredible force. Peoples may have died out long ago, but their language may still live. A city may be destroyed, its builders forgotten; there may no longer be a trace of life in it, but names may have survived.
Words are power. Words have come like a tornado, torn people away from their accustomed ways, and led them up to the heights. Words have fallen like flames of fire into souls and called them forth to great deeds, releasing creative depths and causing great works to proceed from the. Words have made men free, given strength, awakened confidence, given joy. Words have wounded; have bitten in and remained stuck like barbed hooks; have poisoned and destroyed...

- Romano Guardini (from his mediation on the phrase, "Hallowed be thy name")


Justine said...

I love Fr. Guardini! Thanks for posting this!

Suzanne said...

Yes, I love him, too!

Marie said...

I also love Fr. Guardini, and this passage resonates with me quite a bit. But to get analytical for a moment I do think he overlooks that some people do not think first or primarily in words; they think in images. They see "movies" in their minds and have to struggle to decode that into speech.

Suzanne said...

That's an interesting observation, Marie. I guess my question is -- is it really "thinking" when there are no words? I think of "thinking" as a process that involves meaning. Images, or movies can be meaningful, but only once we find the words that express their meaning...?

Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."