If I could have any superpower in the world, I would want the superpower of having the right words to say in the right moment. It’s the superpower that I have always wanted — and will never have.
Because we never have exactly the right words.
We try — and God knows I try so very hard to find the right words every week with each new sermon — but words will never be enough. As one pastor says, “Words are never enough, and yet words are all we have.” I am reminded of this each and every time I turn to the liturgical tradition to speak to the reality of life. In the United Church of Christ, or at least the particular persuasion of the denomination that created me, we don’t recite the same words each week. We don’t return to familiar prayers recorded in a prayer book each time we gather. We change the words. We seek new words. We declare that God is still speaking, and then try to fill in the spaces where it seems God is silent. We fill the space between God and us with words — so many words.
|The United Churches of Olympia blessing two saints.|
And I love words, so I’m OK with this. It’s really not a problem for me — until someone dies or life changes. Then, I don’t look for new words. I turn to the prayer book I’ve got and immerse myself in the words I have spoken so many times before. And sometimes these words overwhelm me so much that my voice cracks as I speak them, as it did on Sunday.
On Sunday, we said goodbye to two wonderful people who have been such a blessing to our church for 40 years. They are moving into assisted living outside of our community — and he let me indulge in the blessing of words. Using the liturgy that I have used each and every time I have left for a new ministry, we spoke the words of change. It was as powerful as it looks in the photo.
And then, two days later, I get a phone call from the son of one of our other wonderful members. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor last spring and it’s been a long, long road — but the end is near. He wanted us to know — her church family — so that we could go and say goodbye. I hung up the phone, breathed a heavy sigh and wrote an email to the whole congregation. Since that email was sent, I have spoken to a number of people who don’t know what to say. They feel that they should say something but this is new (or way too familiar) and they are lost for words. So, they call me asking what they should say. (Can I add that I love that this is what I do? I get to answer these questions. How amazing is that?) So, I tell them what I do — in the hope that it might help them.
I don’t go with a prayer book. It is an incredibly rare occasion that I offer the words from my tradition. Instead, I sit beside the one who is dying and I hold her hand. And then, I tell her three things:
- God loves you.
- I love you.
- I wish you so much peace.
I probably use a little flowery language because I love words so much. I just can’t help myself. The first statement is probably something ministers say more than the average person — but my faith also assures us that we’re all ministers. There is no requirement of ordination to declare God’s blessings. You only need to believe it’s true. And the rest is what I believe matters most. I don’t think we can tell each other enough how much we love. So, it’s important to say: I love you. Tell a story about how much you love that person — when she did something amazing, when she cared for you or when you were inspired by her. Whatever that story is, tell it. And then, say the other thing that we don’t say enough: I don’t want you to be in pain but want you to feel peace. It ain’t a superpower. It’s just the truth and there is nothing more awesome than that.