Every week I read, write, speak and listen to a lot of words. Reports, books, podcasts, my journal, social media, streaming services, radio news, sermon manuscripts, emails, connect newsletters… Words spill over and from me, most of them inconsequential and so soon forgotten, prosaic words that serve a short-term purpose. But every now and then I hear or read something that stops me in my tracks, reminding me that there are words that have enduring power – the ability to reshape my thinking, unsettling me for all the right reasons. Rather than prosaic words serving a neatly defined and flattened purpose, these words are poetic, evoking new possibilities, encouraging me to reach new heights. I heard words like these last week from Stan Grant.
We live in a world full of exclamation marks, where political opponents shout at each other from a distance, language rich with empty slogans and cheap shots, shutting down any opportunity for conversation that might lead to mutual understanding and growth. One of the reasons Stan Grant’s message at a conference I was attending was so memorable was the quiet gravitas with which he delivered it. Without histrionics and spoken without any reference to notes, at times it was as if he whispered, inviting us to lean forward to ensure we didn’t miss one word, not one of those words wasted or superfluous.
Stan was speaking at ‘Preachfest’, a Sydney and Melbourne gathering of Uniting Church preachers and teachers seeking to encourage one another to grow in their craft. My friend and colleague Rick Dacey was a keynote speaker in Melbourne, and I had just spoken at the opening worship session in Sydney. In his address, Stan spoke of the hollowness of much of our public and political language, especially leading into and in the shadow of the recent Voice Referendum. Reflecting on his Wiradjuri culture and his childhood experiences growing up in the black church, with piercing cultural and biblical insight he challenged us to speak a higher, far more powerful Word, the divine Word – a Word from God. You don’t have to be a preacher, or even a Christian believer like me to appreciate the wisdom woven through this remarkable talk – which you can watch in full here: https://vimeo.com/880751191.
Some of the most powerful words we speak or hear are offered as a whisper. It was from under a tree outside her Naracoorte home I nervously whispered to 14-year-old Sue Pallant that I loved her. To which she responded, ‘me too’, leaving me wondering for ages afterwards whether she meant she loved herself too, or if my teenage (and very hormonal) love was reciprocated.
It’s God’s whisper that’s been the most powerful and consequential across my years. In the whirlwind of life, too many times to recount, God’s still, small voice has broken through the white noise of anxiety and doubt with a word in season, a word that heals, restores, reassures – and often challenges.
‘There is no fear in love, but my perfect love casts out all fear.’
‘Nothing can separate you from my love, demonstrated in Jesus my son, not any height or any depth, not even death or life.’
‘When you wait on me, I will renew your strength. You will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.’
I could go on and on.
Here’s my prayer for you today – that you would hear God’s whisper of a word in season – poetic words that address your soul, that reshape your mind and hug your heart.