[From an address Sayers gave in February, 1942 (“The Creative Mind” in Unpopular Opinions: Twenty-One Essays, Dorothy L. Sayers. Gollancz Ltd., 1946. p. 57). These words are as true now as then, but even more pressing because of how immediately and how widely words are today cast out into the world.]
“It is as dangerous for people unaccustomed to handling words and unacquainted with their technique to tinker about with these heavily-charged nuclei of emotional power as it would be for me to burst into a laboratory and play about with a powerful electro-magnet or other machine highly charged with electrical force. By my clumsy and ignorant handling, I should probably, at the very least, contrive to damage either the machine or myself; at the worst I might blow up the whole place. Similarly the irresponsible use of highly-electric words is very strongly to be deprecated.
“At the present time we have a population that is literate, in the sense that everybody is able to read and write; but, owing to the emphasis placed on scientific and technical training at the expense of the humanities, very few of our people have been taught to understand and handle language as an instrument of power. This means that, in this country alone, forty million innocents or thereabouts are wandering inquisitively about the laboratory, enthusiastically pulling handles and pushing buttons, thereby releasing uncontrollable currents of electric speech, with results that astonish themselves and the world. Nothing is more intoxicating than a sense of power: the demagogue who can sway crowds, the journalist who can push up the sales of his paper to the two-million mark, the playwright who can plunge an audience into an orgy of facile emotion, the parliamentary candidate who is carried to the top of the poll on a flood of meaningless rhetoric, the ranting preacher, the advertising salesman of material or spiritual commodities, are all playing perilously and irresponsibly with the power of words, and are equally dangerous whether they are cynically unscrupulous or (as frequently happens) have fallen under the spell of their own eloquence and become the victims of their own propaganda.”
Lord, help us all – especially those of us whose vocations are language-centric – be mightily careful of the work we do, never forgetting the power and import (and sacredness, for did you not speak the universe into existence?) of the tools we wield.
I wrote these words 13 years ago but could have written them yesterday – not just about the events of that day (because the events of that day are repeated over and over and over again throughout history, in a thousand places and in a thousand ways) but about all of life when it is lived outside of God’s immeasurable, forgiving, majestic, jealous love. (And please do silence your outcry regarding God’s jealousy, for it is not humanly petty. It is gloriously divine. It is for us – all of each one of us – and nothing could be more breathtakingly astounding.)
Some say that 9/11 forever changed our world. God says that today (and every day) He will forever change me. I choose the second.
Regarding September 11…
I have a thousand questions I want answered.
I have a thousand fears I want quelled.
I have a thousand thoughts I want sorted out.
I have a thousand concerns I want soothed.
I have a thousand things I want changed.
I have a thousand people I want saved.
I have a thousand places I want seen.
I have a thousand songs I want sung.
I have a thousand steps I want walked.
I have a thousand prayers I want uttered.
I have a thousand bridges I want crossed.
I have a thousand roads I want traveled.
I have a thousand books I want read.
I have a thousand poems I want whispered.
I have a thousand birds I want freed.
I have a thousand trees I want honored.
I have a thousand skies I want admired.
I have a thousand oceans I want remembered.
I have a thousand eyes I want dried.
I have a thousand ears I want opened.
I have a thousand voices I want heard.
I have a thousand wrongs I want forgiven.
I have a thousand mountains I want climbed.
I have a thousand stars I want named.
I have a thousand lives I want lived.
I have a thousand fields I want sown.
I have a thousand rivers I want blessed.
I have a thousand children I want born.
I have a thousand sorrows I want healed.
I have a thousand days I want begun.
I have a thousand years I want danced.
I have a thousand clouds I want explored.
But I have only one God, who is true from the highest heights to the lowest depths, from the farthest east to the farthest west, and from the beginning of always to the end of never.
The god for whom people were willing to die last Tuesday is no god at all.
The true God does not say, “Die for me.” He says, “I’ve died for you – though you did not deserve it.”
The true God does not say, “Hate others.” He says, “Love others – as much as you love yourself.”
The true God does not say, “Crucify the enemy.” He says, “Crucify your heart – so I can create in you a new one.”
Would that the entire world could live in the contented peace of such simple truth as this.