The words we use

Renoir, la marchande d'orangesIf I use words, I cannot avoid inaccuracy, interpretation and ideas. Sometimes when communicating, only silence will do. However, since communicating in silence remains a rare, intense experience for me, usually I have nothing better than words.

Words trap us in ideas. A clear idea is a vehicle for understanding, and a barrier to greater understanding: the idea that planetary orbit must be perfect, and therefore had to be circular, inhibited observers from discerning the true orbit. I seek to crack open ideas with paradox:

Both are true:

God is

God is not

This sometimes works, sometimes does not.

We know our experiences. We theorise explanations of them. My heart beat fast. I could not stay sitting. I had to speak. This I know, and others hear and instantly recognise their own experience. The theories are that God did it, or unconscious processes did it. If I demand that others accept a particular theory, I create a barrier between people who share experiences. Theist and non-theist share the idea that what is said may be good or bad- from God or from evil spirits, or from communal co-operative or selfish unconscious impulses.

Quakers say “Christianity is not a notion, but a way”. We use “notion” as a jargon term like Marx’s original idea of “ideology”- a false understanding. So my religion is one of practice and attitude, not belief or dogma. I have the experience of Unity in a business meeting, I do not need a theory of what causes it.

Rhiannon Grant led a workshop at yearly meeting on our words. She has done a thesis on the words we use. She invited us to put them in categories: words we never/sometimes/always use. “God” was in all three. I could say “Highest Good/ Truth/ Reality” as a synonym. Some of us are happy saying “Jesus of Nazareth” but not “Christ”. Sometimes it seemed that our most precise words were used less. I was pleased there to see again a man who, in this highly intelligent gathering, is particularly clear and sharp. He is enjoying being a Woodbrooke trustee.

Often we say what we are not. “Quakers do not have a creed”- yet we have accumulated a number of verbal formulations which we assent to, the first being “There is that of God in every one”, ripped out of George Fox’s original context and made gender neutral. We don’t have a lot of those, though, and most are images, leading people on rather than leaving them in a definite (so probably erroneous) idea.

“Inner Light” is a good word for what leads us. We know what we mean. Outsiders might not. So in discussions we seek to use words people will hear and resonate with, treading carefully and checking their responses. Though if someone merely wishes to deride my idiocy, I can be more knockabout.

One woman found she was using verbs rather than nouns: “Encounter” rather than “God”. Again, this brings us back to the experience rather than the theory.

Let there be no barriers between us!
As my words move in your mind
We become one flesh, like lovers
though we only pass in the street

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