375 Words on Words


You’ve probably experienced this feeling before. You are trying to articulate something important, something that has shaped you in a significant way, maybe something profound.

Is it complex? Not really. It’s more that the nuance is hard to get right. A simple explanation should suffice but simplicity is elusive. So you spout more and more words to make sense of it for your sake and the sake of your listener. Even more fundamentally, you elaborate for the sake of the thing itself, for to describe it poorly feels tantamount to denying or defacing it. You begin by teasing out its shape. Then you dance (more likely stumble) around the essence of the thing. Then finally, just as it starts to come into focus, it vanishes. The frustrating thing is that it’s really quite simple. Or is it? Either way, what you’re left with at the end of the whole exercise isn’t a profound picture of the thing, but a tangled mound of verbiage instead. Do you know that feeling?

Every time I can’t put two words (or notes) together for my grad project I’m reminded of this simple reality: language is slippery. So is music. Both come up short. Maybe this is by design (on this side of the veil anyway), to remind me that while my efforts are always inadequate, while some things are beyond description, the Living Word still speaks. He is always sufficient, and we live by His Word (and His Music?), not our own.

On many days the limitations of language – and even more so, my own limitations as a composer – cause me frustration and even fear. Will I distort others’ picture of God rather than enhancing it? What if my songs are fluffy, boring, or disjointed? Fortunately on other days I see these limitations as an opportunity to thank God for His limitlessness. It’s impossible for anyone, much less me, to fully describe the mystery and beauty of God, yet God lovingly invites me to explore His bigness so I can understand my smallness is of little consequence. So I reach for words, I reach for music, I reach for something that will illuminate a small sliver of the Beauty I long to behold. Today a sliver. One day the whole.

Photo courtesy of Robert Aichinger

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