Words are fascinating things. I remember Mama reading to me when I was little and couldn't read for myself. The stories were great, with the sound of her voice changing the black marks on the page to adventures and heroes. I learned to read in the first grade, or at least started to, but I really wasn't a fan of reading for myself. That changed in third grade when I had a series of illnesses that kept me at home and Mama didn't have time to stop and read every time I wanted to hear something. So, I learned the value of books and words. I became a voracious reader, something that's stuck to me throughout all the intervening decades.
I like to play with words, making them flow together to convey what I want to say in the way I’d like to say it. Sometimes the tone is a little flat, but that's because I have the wrong word. I used to be left to my own devices to come up with the precise word I wanted, but, thanks be to God, the Internet has saved me a lot of trouble on that one.
I have a word game on my cell phone. I’m given six letters, and a design of empty boxes like a crossword puzzle with no numbers. The idea is to connect three or more letters from those given so that they make an actual word and fill in some of the squares. Sometimes there's a bonus word that's a little harder but uses the same letters. I frequently bang my head against the wall, but I love that stupid game. It's a challenge, especially when I can't see the word pop out at me like most of them do. Sometimes that one word just won't come, so I resort to using the guessing game until suddenly, a word shows up that's correct. What's funny is that sometimes my fingers start trying to start tracing a word that I recognized before I get to the end of it. My brain won't find the words but somewhere in my mind it's there waiting for me to give it a clue.
Words often have connections. This afternoon as I was doing a puzzle one of the words that I found was “death.” It reminded me of the transience of life and how none of us can really escape it. It happens when it happens, whether natural, taken at the hands of others, or lost to disease. Birth comes, life continues, and death happens.
Then I ran into a fourth puzzle and this one, took me aback a little because it had two words related to each other — heaven and haven. It stopped me for a minute because I didn't come up with an immediate association like I had with the other words but then, heaven is a difficult concept for many of us, as much as we are assured in Scripture and in church that after we leave this earth in death we will rise again to be with God.
People have all kinds of ideas about what heaven is and what it's like, everything from angels standing around the throne singing praises to God eternally, nonstop, without end. If I were there, I'd hope they would change the tune every now and then, doing something from Bach, and then maybe from Lauritsen, then maybe a Gregorian chant segueing into Monteverdi. I'll even take a chorus or two of “Just as I Am,” so long as it doesn't last too long or happen too often.
For others heaven is a place where everyone they love will be there waiting for them, and they’ll spend a considerable amount of time greeting people that they have not seen for years and enjoying being with them once again. Some believe that if their dog
or cat, bird, or rabbit who preceded them in death are there waiting, they don't want to go. Heaven to them would be heaven unless that beloved for a person wasn't there with them
So, what's heaven like? I haven't a clue. I can think hopeful thoughts, I can read lots of books with various interpretations, I can discuss it with friends, but all in all, I have no clue. I don't know, and I won't know until the moment comes when I die. Maybe I will find the Jewish afterlife. It’s a place of eternal sleep were God watches over them. No harps, no halos or wings, just a place of eternal sleep, but a sleep that is peaceful for the righteous.
I will probably keep playing my word games, simply because I enjoy them, but mostly to help me keep my mind active and challenged. It bothers me when I can't remember a word (aphasia), and I have to grope around in the recesses of my cortex to try and dig out that word that's on the tip of my tongue, but that very same tongue can't access. Still, words are my way of conveying what I think, what I feel, what I learn, what I observe, what I hear, and the difference it makes to me.
Words are important, too important to be used like bludgeons or sharp knives. Words are too important to waste on gossip and ridicule and bullying. What if we had a world where words were used to build up rather than tear down? I wonder — what would that world be like? What words could we use to build the bridge amongst ourselves as individuals, groups, nations, and universally? If birth comes, life continues, and death happens, what word would bring heaven?
I wish I had all the answers. In a way, I envy those who have gone before me because now, very probably, they have all the answers; they can stop wondering, but they can't tell me no matter how much I ask. I guess one word I need to get used to more than anything else is “ambiguity.” I need to learn to completely trust in ambiguity, trust that I don't need to know all the answers, they will come soon enough. I don't need to understand how the Trinity works, what heaven is like, or whether or not the Cubs will win again this year. Wait, maybe I'll find that out sooner rather than later. But still, I will have words to ask questions, to ponder, to wonder, and to try and pass on what I have learned to others, just as those who have gone before me have taught me.
Thank God for words. And thank God for words that let me express love, especially for those who have gone before and whom I devoutly pray will be waiting for me when my turn comes. They have the answers like the back of the textbook used to!