The Word Became Flesh


Emily Heyne // Tales From the Trenches

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November 30  

I speculate that we are at peak potty-talk levels in our house these days. If raising young children during a pandemic has taught me anything, it is that while certain evils will remain endemic in a population, they nevertheless will peak in intensity at various times. The chief ailment plaguing my children these days is the unrestrained desire to call one another “poopy buttface.” I, in response, dole out ineffective punishments and hope the thrill of proclaiming forbidden words will soon diminish. 

They are experimenting with the power of their words, I know. They witness their sibling’s anger rise at the unjust insult; they watch the youngest giggle as he imitates the trespass; they hear me sigh and seek to avoid my glare. Occasionally, in my best Yoda voice (but lacking his syntax), I tell them, “Choose your words for good, not evil, young one. The power is within you.” They roll their eyes.

I want to tell them more about the truth that they are just beginning to sense for themselvesthat their words have the power to cause deep wounds and to render true healing. What I refrain from telling them is that their very existence comes from the Word, that God’s utterance brings everything into being, and that such a power to change reality with their own words is the mark of the divine life within them. But children—alas, human kind—cannot bear very much reality, to borrow from T.S. Eliot. So, I stick to Yoda impressions and count the offender’s punitive pushups instead.

It’s a bold claim to say that our words can change reality. The same stuff that makes up our mundane chatter hardly seems related to the mysteries of God himselfAnd the Word was with God, and the Word was God. But we know this to be true: the blessings, curses, and bestowal of birthrights within Scripture have real consequences; the indelible mark upon one’s soul at baptism is brought about by the baptismal waters and the spoken words. As the priest repeats the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, bread and wine are transformed. We, in turn, echo the faith of the centurion: Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed. But it is not just patriarchs, prophets, priests, and Jesus whose words effect change; all of us have the power to shape the souls we encounter. When mothers name their children at birth, when they speak words that give life and form the inner voice of their children, when they shower blessings upon them, mothers participate, with the Word, in the work of creation.

As we enter this season of Advent, I can take heart that, although my children may not learn to harness their unbridled tongues before Christmas (will any of us?), they will, with their mother, begin to contemplate anew the mystery of the Incarnation, of the light that shines in the darkness, the true light, which enlightens everyone, of the Word [who] became flesh, and dwelt among us

And, to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God. The Word who gives us all words, who breathes life into being, who came to us in the flesh with a face of love, grace, and truth—gives us the power to be his children. At such times, my own words fail me.

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