I sit here fumbling for words. Maybe not fumbling…maybe overwhelmed. Let me start again.
I sit here overwhelmed by words.I am currently in Black Mountain, NC at the Ridgecrest Conference Center. I am here attending the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference. And oh. (Any writer reading this just threw up in their mouths a little bit.) But, “and oh”.
It has been a pleasure and delight so far, but in my second break-out session today, something struck a chord with me. The author who was leading the “seminar” is David Teems. He is such a cool guy with a wonderful presence and a love for the people who have provided some of the most foundational parts of our faith and our language. He has written books on William Tyndale, and on the one and only King James. The man was genuinely jubilant over the fact that he was near Asheville, because it is the home place of author Thomas Wolfe. He held up a battered copy of Look Homeward, Angel and told us he has read it five times. He then opened to the epigraph and began to read:
“…a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.
Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother’s face; from the prison of her flesh have we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.
Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father’s heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?
O waste of lost, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this weary, unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When?
O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.”
What caught my attention today was the bit that David Teems emphasized. Tucked right there near the end, Thomas Wolfe makes a reference to “the great forgotten language”. In reflecting on that, Mr. Teems suggested that maybe we as Christians are speaking into the world in a way the world cannot understand. Maybe we have to get back to some “great forgotten language”.
Did you see the news story about Emma Gonzalez? She has been a very active voice since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February. This week, she spoke out concerning the shooting at Santa Fe High School saying that students “deserve more than thoughts and prayers“. This probably angered a lot of Christians. After all, Paul says we should “pray continually” (1 Thess. 5:17, NIV).
However, I think this sentiment needs to be put into conversation together with Scripture like:
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” -Philippians 2:4
“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” -Hebrews 13:16
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” -Galatians 6:2
All of these verses have something very obvious to say to us about the Church’s forgotten language.
As Christians, the “great forgotten language”…is the language of action.
It is true that Paul sent thoughts and prayers to every church and to each person he ever ministered to. The same is true of the writers of every Epistle that we have. However, even while chained and in prison, the thoughts and prayers of the true believers came with the movement of hands and feet; hands giving away food and clothing, feet moving ever toward the unloved, unnoticed, and underprivileged. We have forsaken the most important part of the command. Jesus did tell us to pray…but He also told us to take up our crosses.
The church needs to return to the lost art of action, the forgotten language of movement. It is time for us to rise up in loving belief that teenagers should be able to survive the walk to third period. That belief is not a decision to hate on anyone who enjoys a good firearm. We do not know what it entails because we have forgotten how to speak empathetic action. But it is time we relearn it.
Especially in evangelical circles, there is often a large emphasis put on conversion over relationship. We want people to go to heaven…but do we care what they live through while they’re still down here? In working so hard to pray people into salvation, we may be missing an opportunity to lead them with our own feet.
The lost language of action may just be the “unfound door” that leads people into a life-altering encounter with the One who always communicates love.
•Wolfe, Thomas. Look Homeward, Angel. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929.