I had a particularly hard time with my words at work yesterday. This isn’t a terribly new thing for me, I’ve actually had trouble with words for as long as I can remember. I had to go to speech therapy in elementary school to learn my “R”, “S”, and “Z” sounds, and I occasionally gain a lisp for a short time when I’m tongue tied. When I was taking voice lessons in college, pronunciation was by far the most difficult part, which is saying something because I also have a condition called Vocal Fold Dysfunction, and trying to sing while your vocal cords aren’t working right is no easy task (God bless my kind and patient voice teacher). Despite the fact that I know I am an intelligent person, the times when I am unable to verbalize my thoughts or feelings never fail to make me feel like an idiot.
Especially in college, where perfect eloquence is the mark of a great student, I used the phrase “words are hard!” quite a bit. There’s nothing like trying to tell your professor something and having a jumble of noises come out instead of words. Part of it, I think, is that we carry an unnecessary link between ability to speak well and intelligence, though those two aren’t necessarily connected. Remembering my time learning about literary theory, Western societies have privileged those with eloquence of word. Christianity has been like this too, as was its mother faith, Judaism.
My fellow theology nerds know that the Torah, the holy law first transmitted through oral tradition and then later it was written down. A prominent theology at Christianity’s inception was called Logos, or “Word” theology. From my understanding, as the Hebrew people were dispersed and a central place of worship was no longer possible, reverence for the Torah morphed into reverence for personified Wisdom, or in Greek “Sophia”. In the gospel of John, the literature surrounding Sophia was appropriated to explain Jesus as the Word, the incarnated Wisdom and Torah. This connection between law and word, and wisdom as transition, has been a point of fascination for me lately.
Speaking from a Trinitarian spirituality (which I would like to give a succinct definition for in this parenthetical statement but I am not so silly as to try), I have always personally connected Sophia with the third person of the Trinity, the Spirit. Despite the historical connection from Torah, to Sophia, to Logos, I see a parallel poetry between the Chokhmah and Memra, Sophia and Logos, Wisdom and Word and two distinct but interconnected entities. Instead of understanding Christ the Logos as the culmination of a singular word-based knowledge system and theology, he compliments his partner Sophia, who in turn compliments him by being the wind that carries his message along. But most of Christian theology, historically, disagrees with me.
Historically, adherence to the law/Torah, and correct words/orthodoxy defined Christianity. These two things comprise the reasoning for all the schisms in the church. Someone else said the wrong words, or doesn’t believe in your words. And your right words are your salvation. But what about us who fumble with our words? And who can’t give our mindless devotion to the word-based hierarchy?
The development of my own spirituality has been the primary disturbance in my dependence on a word-based theology. Experiencing things that words can’t conceive, and acknowledging that words cannot signal them has made me question the validity of a theology that lives only in the word. And that is where my love of the Spirit began. Theology without spirituality is like trying to speak without breathing.
Words are hard. But they are impossible without breath.