image by Rebekah Choat
Let me make the songs for the people,
Songs for the old and young;
Songs to stir like a battle-cry
Wherever they are sung.
Not for the clashing of sabres,
For carnage nor for strife;
But songs to thrill the hearts of men
With more abundant life.
Let me make the songs for the weary,
Amid life’s fever and fret,
Till hearts shall relax their tension,
And careworn brows forget.
Let me sing for little children,
Before their footsteps stray,
Sweet anthems of love and duty,
To float o’er life’s highway.
I would sing for the poor and aged,
When shadows dim their sight;
Of the bright and restful mansions,
Where there shall be no night.
Our world, so worn and weary,
Needs music, pure and strong,
To hush the jangle and discords
Of sorrow, pain, and wrong.
Music to soothe all its sorrow,
Till war and crime shall cease;
And the hearts of men grown tender
Girdle the world with peace.
~ Frances E. W. Harper
community (n): a unified body of individuals, as: (a) people with
common interests living in a particular area; (b) an interacting
population of various kinds of individuals in a common location;
(c) a body of persons having a common history or common social,
economic, and political interests; (d) common character
The word community is used in a lot of different contexts, more or less approximating one or another of the definitions given above. The past week I’ve been hearing the word on the news a lot, as the reporters talk about which communities are being hit hardest by our unusually cold weather. I think of my church as a community of the second type, one in which many people who may have little in common beyond a desire to attend services meet in a set location for a set purpose at set times.
What I consider true community is a blending of the remaining two meanings, a group of people who share not only an interest in a particular something, but also a commonality of attitude toward that something. For example, I once attended a writing group. Each of us was interested in creative writing, but I soon discovered that I had a very different focus and intent than any of the others. To me, community is a circle in which I can feel comfortable sharing deep thoughts and feelings, without having to explain overmuch, knowing I will be loved and respected no matter what.
Community is so much more than living and working together
It is a bond of the heart that has no physical limitations. Indeed
it is candles burning in different places of the world, all praying
the same silent prayer of friendship and love. ~ Henri Nouwen,
Yes, we are created in and for community, to be there, in love,
for one another. But community cuts both ways: when we reach
the limits of our own capacity to love, community means trusting
that someone else will be available to the person in need.
~ Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak
This becoming a real live girl isn’t easy; it’s not a straight and clearly marked path. A lot of my experience has been a process of trial and error; a small victory here, a familiar pitfall there…I’ve worked through a lot of long-pent-up emotional damage, yet sometimes still slip back into the well-worn pattern of repressing my feelings so as not to make others uncomfortable.
I’ve taken medications for anxiety and depression, quit taking them when they didn’t work well – or when they had worked well enough that I didn’t think I needed them anymore – tried different ones, adjusted dosage levels, and finally gotten onto a pretty even keel. I’ve gone to counselors, some of whom were helpful, some not so much. I’ve been blessed with incredibly patient and insightful friends who have done more for me than I will ever be able to tell them.
I’m learning, at last, who this elusive real girl Rebekah is: to discern what is truly important to her and to stand up for what she believes, to recognize what is harmful to her and to dare to protect her, to trust her instincts, to be comfortable with her. By the measureless grace of God, I think I’m growing up to be me.
I believe strongly in the power of words. I’m sure whoever – I always imagine it was a frazzled mother trying to comfort a distraught child – first spoke that ditty about sticks and stones meant well, maybe even believed it herself, but she was sadly mistaken. Words can inflict deep wounds that take much longer to heal than broken bones do, perhaps precisely because the word-wounds are so deeply hidden and therefore not recognized and treated. We’re taught to brush away insults, to shrug off epithets. I think something in that shrugging motion actually causes the barbs to work further in under our skin, where their poison seeps into our bloodstream. But we don’t mention our discomfort, won’t let ourselves succumb to the “weakness” of admitting our disease.
Sometimes we can pull it off. We’re strong enough to absorb small stings with minimal lasting damage. Some of us, sometimes, are so tough that we walk around with embedded shrapnel, trying not to limp and pretending that we aren’t in pain. But some of us have been pierced with words like Morgul-blades: the skin has closed over the wound quickly, leaving only a small white mark; but the scar conceals a deadly splinter, festering, working its way inwards. If that malicious fragment is not found and excised, it will destroy us.
We are rarely, if ever, able to perform the operation ourselves. We are too bewildered to recognize what needs to be done, too lost in pain to be able to focus our attention on the precise source of the infection, too weak and fearful to begin the excruciating process. This is one of the many reasons it is vital for us to live in community, to surround ourselves with trusted friends who can often see our wounds more clearly and objectively than we can; who will encourage us, even carry us if necessary, to seek help and healing; who will sit with us and hold our hands through the dark, painful hours, speaking words of light and life.
This piece was first published as “The Power of Words” on http://www.booksbybecka.com on October 4, 2012.