This time of year in Grand Rapids, there is a fantastic event called Art Prize. An open art competition that turns the entire city into a museum for a few months. Artists from all over the world submit pieces. This year, one in the Diocese of Grand Rapids caught my attention.
The piece is entitled “Elephants Never Forget” by Anne Hale Murra. It is a drawing of an elephant using only words to create it. The artist writes:
“Within each of us there is a lifetime of words that have propelled us to our greatest victories, eased our pain, carried promises of hope, invoked deep despair, and made us laugh until we cried… Words influence lives. So choose your words wisely, because like elephants, we never forget.”
At the center of my vocation is language. Words I choose, those I don’t, and the order in which I say them. I have learned through the years the extraordinary power and responsibility that comes with this. It is both a profound honor, and a haunting specter.
Regardless of my best effort or intent, every time I stand before my community with words I have poured and prayed over, there is a good chance I will inspire some and disappoint others, free some and frighten others, help some and hurt others. I will bring clarity for some and confusion to others. This cannot be fixed or prevented. It’s merely the nature of communication. Nonetheless, I am undeterred in my efforts overcome it.
I don’t share this for sympathy, but rather because my vocation amplifies what is true for all of us in every part of life. We all share this responsibility with words. We would all be wise to accept a simple truth:
Words don’t just reflect reality, they create reality. And that reality tends to linger.