Words have power. They make us erupt with laughter or cause our heart to break. Most of you will know the words to the song ‘Yesterday.’ The reason you know these words is not simply because they are part of our culture’s soundtrack. When words are wedded to melody they get lodged in a part of our brain that functions as ‘God’s back up hard drive for humans.’ When we need to access those words, they’re there because of how music works on us and in us, and because of the power of one additional tool of language that we lyricists use to great effect: rhyme. Sing the lines ‘Why she had to go I don’t know, she wouldn’t say. I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday.’ Decades after my first hearing of this amazing song I have no problem recalling the words. They still speak. The first line I quoted speaks of the power of words withheld. Even unspoken, words have power. The second line speaks of the collective human experience of broken hearts and regret. If words didn’t matter we could say cruel things to each other and nothing would change. But we all know what happens when hurtful words get spoken. People get hurt. Things change.
Words matter because words have power.
Those of us from the community of faith believe that words got the whole cosmos rolling in the first place. The opening chapters of Genesis poetically describe the creation of the world through the means of God-spoken words like ‘Let there be light.’ These words, because of their inherent power and the power of the One who spoke them, bring about the reality we find ourselves in the middle of. This was my inspiration for the words I wrote in Creation Calls.
I have felt the wind blow, whispering your name.
I have seen your tears fall when I watch the rain.
How could I say there is no God when all around creation calls . . .
The words that we think and speak are powerful and important, but perhaps most powerful of all are the words we sing. These words are not thoughtlessly uttered and then forgotten, but deeply engraved in our memory. It’s these words that help us in times of trouble. For me the writing of songs has been one of the main ways that I’ve responded to the various storms that have blown through my life. Hearing stories of how the words to these songs have subsequently helped people in distress is one of my greatest motivators to keep on writing. I was stunned when I heard about people in a shipwreck clinging to debris in the ocean singing ‘Faithful One’ for hours as they awaited rescue, or my recent meeting with a woman who was about to commit suicide. At the last minute she discovered one of my least known songs on YouTube called ‘Enter the Rest of God’. Instead of ending her life and abandoning her then 2-year-old son, she gave her burdens to God and since then, every night she and her now 5-year-old son sing these words over each other.
Several years ago I went through a prolonged season of disorientation and darkness initiated by relational conflict in a church I had helped plant. The result – I lost my words. (A bit of a problem when you make your living with words as a songwriter.) After 2 years of not writing any new songs I rediscovered the power of the ancient words from the Book of Psalms. Since then I’ve become part of a new band made up of old friends. We are ‘The SHIYR Poets’ (Pronounced ‘Sheer’) and we are creating new inspirational folk rock settings of the Psalms. We sing the dark and difficult lament Psalms too, because we relate to them. Our first album ‘Songs for the Journey Volume One’ contains Psalms 1 to 10 and we are almost finished Volume Two which contains Psalms 11 to 20. These ancient words have helped keep me alive. (www.theshiyrpoets.com)
My other prime focus in this season is to mentor and encourage the next generation to write words in song. My hope in doing so is this; when they are in trouble – and suffering will mark each of their young lives eventually – they will have songs in their musical mother tongue to help them remember. I’m doing this at Prairie College in Three Hills, Alberta. (www.prairie.edu/worship)
Words help us build a relationship with our Maker and those around us. They help us express who we are and what we are going through. Let’s keep on singing the words that matter the most, engraving them into our memory. And let’s ensure that phrases like ‘I love you,’ ‘You are amazing,’ and ‘Will you forgive me?’ are often on our lips as we interact with people who need to experience the power of words in a life-giving way.