Random Acts of Poetry: What’s in a Word?

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Random Acts of Poetry: What’s in a Word?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

So says Juliet in the famous balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet. When she asks “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” she is not wondering where he is (a common misinterpretation of Shakespeare's archaic language). She is wondering why his name must be “Romeo.” Romeo is a Montague. Juliet is a Capulet. Their families hated each other.

Different people hate different words. Juliet hated the word "Montague" because it meant she was not allowed to love Romeo. Christians often hate cursing, looking down on the small minds who rely on such uncreative words and vulgarities. Atheists often hate Christianeze, looking down on small minds who see blessings in everything and God’s hand on everyone and God’s will in every small decision they make.

Some scientists have said, “All a person is in the end…is a story you tell yourself.” Others have claimed that our language shapes our thoughts. This means we are the words we use, the sentences we share, the paragraphs and narratives we build in association with the actions of our bodies.

Romeo and Juliet try to overcome the power of words and family hatreds, but they must sacrifice themselves in order to do it. Surely, this testifies to the power of words.

Jesus had something to say about words, too. Each of the verses below include the Greek word Logos, which means more than just vocabulary. It is thought and logic and reason.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1-2) 

For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matt. 12:37) 

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Matt. 24:35 )

Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop — thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown. (Mark 4:20) 

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24) 

This week, let's explore the role of language in our faith. Language can be a place of struggle for many Christians working in secular environments. How does one live with purity and faithfulness and still accept others—and the language of others—without judgment? Should we speak the language of the people around us in order to reach out to them?

Read over the verses above. Explore what others are saying about the power of language in Radiolab: Words, an incredibly engaging radio show about the science of language; or What's in a Word? from Newsweek; or the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet. (What better inspiration for poetry than the bard himself?)

Random Acts of Poetry

This week, write a poem that tells a story or paints a picture in order to answer the question:

What’s in a word?

After you write your poem, leave a link in the widget below by next Wednesday, March 9, to have your work considered for publication on TheHighCalling.org.

Image by Bachtiar Rahady. Used with permission, via Flickr. Post by Marcus Goodyear.