Words don’t truly matter. We like to think that they do because they have meaning and we know that meaning truly matters.
When I wrote Taking Language at its Word? this is what I meant: we cannot trust language to tells us the truth without rigorous interpretation, meaning-seeking, and hermeneutics. The rigor of this search for meaning is that it is elusive and scarce and never rests.
In this Augustinian restlessness, we find the universal call to holiness intimately attached to the human quest for meaning. Since Truth (God, in other words) is excessive, meaning is as close as we can get. And even when we hold a morsel in our hands we lose it, like water through our fingers, and are left to begin anew. Meaning is spoiled by remaining still or being contained by human hands.
This dynamic sounds exhausting, but only in it (and we can never immerse ourselves in it completely; Truth it is too deep to ever touch bottom) can we live as human persons made in the image of God.
This is not an academic or bookish call to study. It is a call to contemplation. And contemplation is not the sole domain of monks and nuns; nor is it is the task of inactive or unproductive rumination. It is a call to action in the most prescient activity we can possibly imagine: conversion.
I understand and admire those who see this activity as a matter of holding fast to language that seems indisputable and sacred. There is nothing as noble as those who burn with passion for the preservation and recovery of the dignity human person. As much as I long to be able to enlist and assist in this task of linguistic preservation and restoration, I cannot.
Please read what I say carefully: This is not a surrender or defeat to the powers that erase and disfigure the image of God written on our restless hearts. Instead, it is an act in solidarity with those who oppose such powers and a call to continue to “go out into the deep.” Not with me—God knows (of course) that I spend most of my time in the kiddy pool we call academia and the blogosphere—but with “Him whom they have pierced.”
The Truth of the Pierced One conveys the meaning of His teachings: Death to self, love of enemy, loss as victory, last as first. These odd things commanded by that strange, audacious Rabbi measure the depth of conversion and the universal call to holiness. Going out into the deep means that we cannot fight as the armies of old, we must be made new in the commandment of radical, selfless love on grand display at Calvary.
Therefore, to begin to recover and defend the dignity of the human person, we cannot simply assert the brute language we take to be self evident. We cannot assume that we are telling Truth when we use words. They are cloaked in meaning and Truth is beyond their mere connotations.
We—myself first and foremost—should strive to seek out ways to convey the gospel of life we find in the excessive meaning of the Cross. This is what Francis understands in his famous dictum: “Preach the gospel at all times, when necessary use words.” It is meaning, not words , that can bring morsels of Truth into the world.
Only that Truth can save us.