Monday, July 15, 2013

Constructing Reality

a desert sunrise
-beyond words-

When I was a small child I learned a little rhyme: "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me." I was told to chant the rhyme whenever someone was bullying me or calling me a derogatory name." 

That one little rhyme was the biggest lie I was ever told

We construct our realties by the words we use. Names have great power.

When I was a boy, we used to visit an elderly relative who had been born in Poland. We went to her home for dinner almost every Sunday and she would always serve us this marvelous "Polish" soup with delicious sweet-dried fruit floating in the broth.  One day I remember asking her what the name of the soup was. She first gave me it's Polish name. "What does that mean in English?" I asked; and she answered, "it's called "Duck's Blood Soup." 

Yes, the sweet soup I loved so much was made out of duck's blood. That soup I had delighted in for years now had a new name and that name changed reality for me.

The words we use do far more than refer to reality; our names "construct" our realities.

This all makes me realize how cautious and careful we should be in the way we "name" one another. A racial or ethnic slur, a denigrating word about how another looks or acts or thinks has great power- the "name" constructs the reality.

This also makes me realize how careful we should be about the way in which we "name" God.  I literally cringe when I read prayers that name God as an "almighty and eternal king." I cringe even more when I hear God popularly referred to as"the man upstairs." I cringe because God is NOT a man  upstairs, nor is HE a powerful king. 

These names do not refer to any reality. But these names do "construct reality." Whenever we name God in this way, we make God into this image. So God becomes a king on a throne or a man in the sky. We construct reality by the names we use.

A fifth century Syrian monk (Pseudo-Dionysius) once wrote:

When we encounter the matchless glory of the divine, we find ourselves not simply running short of words but actually speechless and unknowing-standing naked before God without the protective interference of language.

So, we must be careful about how we name God. Perhaps refrain from naming God at all.

"Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me." Don't believe the lie. Names have great power. Names construct our realities. 

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