December 11, 2014

A Settling Mist

Wanderer Above The Sea of Fog
Caspar David Friedrich
"True eloquence does not consist ... in saying great things in a sublime style, but in a simple style; for there is, properly speaking, no such thing as a sublime style, the sublimity lies only in the things; and when they are not so, the language may be turgid, affected, metaphorical, but not affecting." ~Oliver Goldsmith-Of Eloquence, 1759

So I’ve begun to look at one of the gifts the Lord has given me that was not fully there previous to my conversion. I've zeroed in on one in particular and am using it now. It is a gift that I have been told I have by not only people that know me personally but even by those that are complete strangers. Even those that have not liked me or have been enemies have acknowledged something peculiar when it comes to this gift.

It revolves around an ability to communicate exact intent and it has steered me towards other gifts clearly outlined in the Bible. I have been told I have an eloquence with words. At times I have overused this linguistic gift most times by using 10 dollar words where 5 dollar ones work fine but usually I get my point across well enough. I am a careful chooser of words because there is the power of life and death in the spoken and written word.

Ecclesiastes 5:2 ~ “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.”

Proverbs 10:19 ~ “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”

This ability allows me to convey ideas succinctly. When I haven't done this it has been detrimental for myself or others. It has been a case of the proverbial, "Loose lips, sink ships." Conversely, with a few carefully chosen words I can pass on ideas that otherwise would’ve remained in the realm of silence or memory alone. This of course makes what one says interesting. In other words, specific carefully chosen words aid in teaching principles, expounding on philosophies and dictating doctrines. In a subtler way it delivers beliefs and expresses attitudes. I do not bring this up to blow my own horn but rather to take a closer look at the artistic use of words like the careful use of colors and hues on a painters palette. Subtleties in hues change images, and changed images change or affect minds. Sometimes it is not a matter what is said, but rather how it is said.

Most that know me from back in the day know I was not a verbal or rhetorical gymnast. As a matter of fact, I was rather vulgar and crude in my use of foul language. To this day I occasionally have my foul outbursts that I later regret and loathe the behavior because I know God has created me for better. So I can only attribute any positive change to the Holy Spirit. It has been the first signs of the Spirit beginning to reshape my life. Things like patience and kindness on the other hand have been another tiresome chore all-together. Sadly because of my sinful nature, those are a topic for another post that will show my haphazard journey towards God and holiness.

So what makes communication just words and what makes communication eloquent? It is clear right from the get-go that eloquence is a matter of aesthetics and perception. It is art as much as science. It is taste down to the nuance of flavor and color and down to variation in hues. I believe part of the understanding of regular communication and eloquent communication is to understand that words bubble from the wellspring of the heart and the soul of people. Words condition the souls of others too. Therefore the words are not what makes the eloquence eloquent, it is the motive and inspiration behind the words. On the other end, the receiver’s heart plays a role to complete the cycle.

I as a speaker or writer can only convey ideas at a given point in time. Are the hearts and souls of others conducive to receiving the words I’ve projected? It is at this point that I realize that God is present in the clear communication, or absent when confusion reigns. It is here I realize that even the gift of putting the words out there is not enough. There is a gift in receiving them to. God might be the impetus behind a person's ability and gift with words but at the same time, for people to understand or recognize the “eloquence” in the communication takes a gift of comprehension. To then also see the beauty or aesthetics of it….takes an ability or grace of God. At the root of beauty lies the grace of others.

All beauty, holistic structure, organization and unity of disparate thought is an ability to comprehend what comes from God. Letters which are merely symbols make words. Words are symbols of things in reality (or not). What these words or symbols represent conjure pictures in our heads that form ideas. What makes these ideas aesthetically pleasing is in the mind of the sender and then in the mind of the receiver.

So eloquence boils down to not only the gift of the communicator but also the abilities given to the receiving party. God used words in the Bible to convey ideas. The Bible to most is just a book with words. It isn’t until the reader of the Bible or the expositor of words from the Bible airs these words and ideas that the Gospel and the power of the Gospel becomes evident. 

Then it hits me again. 

The reason some people have been given this particular gift of words to be able to exposit the words long written down in the pages of Scripture. The word itself is already eloquent but it takes a people trained or able to see this quality in it and use it to teach others. Concerning the eloquence of certain portions of Scripture, John Calvin was once noted for having said…
“Let us pay attention to the style of Isaiah which is not only pure and elegant, but also is ornamented with high art—from which we may learn that eloquence may be of great service to faith.”
In addition the Calvin’s statement we also have this from poet John Donne...
“The Holy Ghost in penning the Scriptures delights himself, not only with a propriety, but with a delicacy, and harmony, and melody of language; with height of Metaphors, and other figures, which may work greater impressions upon the Readers.”

In other words, Donne is saying that there is a beauty and eloquence in the language of Scripture. Because of this there is a residual effect on readers. What makes the words of the Bible so eloquent and effective? It is Christ in the Word itself. It is the very thing that also makes the Gospel offensive to the non-believing reader and listener. It is Christ in the Gospel. These words if taken to heart...change hearts  and therefore lives permanently.

So, although I can communicate in the modern language, vernaculars, colloquialisms, euphemism, similes and metaphors, at the base level I as a human being was constructed to air-out the truth of Scripture. My gift therefore is merely to be a conduit for the broadcast of words. I am a supplier of symbols that represent ideas. Because I have immersed myself in the Word of God in Scripture for so long, it's divine eloquence has become part of me. I take no credit whatsoever for it.

Proverbs 16:23 ~ “A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction”

How many of those ideas remain righteous and of God depends solely on my relationship with God and how much time I marinate and simmer in the God’s word. It is indicative of the time I spend in direct communication with God in prayer. Therefore, those that don’t pray much, really shouldn’t have much to say. Those that don’t base their thoughts in the Scriptures are therefore thinkers of dangerous ideas. It is like making a choice between marinating in bitter herbs or the sweetness of honey.

Eloquence, ideas and the words used to convey ideas are like morning fog. Depending on the density and heaviness of the ideas and words, the rate of absorption varies. Heavy and dense fog often takes very little time to soak into or sink into a receptive cloth or sponge. When words carry more weight, they tend to hit us with a more dramatic impact. They leave a lasting impression. They cover us more completely. They leave a mark. Eloquence with words does the same thing and causes a similar impact but it does it in a gentler manner. A light and unobtrusive fog may often take quite a bit of time to saturate the cloth that lies on the ground but even an elegant and inconspicuous fog can thoroughly saturate and pervade even the thickest cloth if it dwells long enough over the thing that absorbs it. So too the eloquent and ethereal words of Scripture that hang in the air and the minds of attentive listeners during teaching and preaching of God's truth and the Gospel.

[The use of Caspar David Friedrich’s painting is very intentional. I chose this painting of the wanderer because it is as if the painting suggests that the wanderer holds a mastery over a landscape and simultaneously is an insignificant individual within it. This is how I feel when expositing Scripture. Many may see me as an expert when expounding the Word o God but I myself see my role solely as a supporting secondary role. Since no one can see the face (or the heart) of the man except God, it's impossible to know whether the young man is exhilarated, or terrified, or both. This too is the effect on the teacher and preacher o God's word. There is an exhilaration of being given the righteous task of teaching God's word...but it comes at a cost and it is a mighty responsibility few will fully understand. I am usually exhausted days after preaching as it takes a lot out of me. 

Only God therefore is capable of properly conveying the true intent of the man's heart. It is the same way I feel when I think about the gift of words I have been given and the use to which they’ve are being used. I am merely a conduit of words and ideas. I am speaker of biblical truths. I am merely the vessel God chooses to use to expound on his words and principles. The calling has made me what I am, I have added nothing to the calling that God hasn’t already given me. It is both exhilarating...and terrifying.]

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