Reflection Masthead
Issue 105- Words- April 2014

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To Not Have to Know

  "This might be what I like most about believing in Jesus: the ability to not have to know. To not have to drape the white sheet of language over its emptiness. To not have to rope this event to reason in order to pull it, hand over hand, back from beyond the cliff of rationality where it hangs. To not have to be the one who gives meaning to the fact that an old man, one who liked ice cream and Zen and hiking retreats with Mass and reflections, was shot in the head three days before he turned 76. It is not a Christian's job.

  "We human beings are not the ones who get to make this death meaningful. God is the one who breathes life, calls us from the grave, makes any death-even a martyrdom, even this one, even if it becomes the catalyst for peace in Syria-meaningful."

- from "What Martyrdom Means," by Patrick Gilger, SJ, reflecting on the April 7 murder of fellow Jesuit, Frans van der Lugt, in Syria.

Past Issues


2-Creating Sacred Space

3-Leaving Footprints


5-Ordered Life

76-Vanier Visit

87-Wondrous Fear, Holy Awe

91-Crater Lake


96-Reveal Your Mercies

98-Pilgrim Soul

99-Your Book, Your Verse


101-On Reflections 

102-Morning Moments

103-Pretense Free

104-Into Self Into God

Link to all past issues  

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To Know and to Remember


We need words to name our world. Yet, over and over, words fail to express the inexpressible.

Dana Gioia's poem, "Words," begins, "The world does not need words. It articulates itself / in sunlight, leaves, and shadows." True enough - but only partly true (as Gioia's poem itself acknowledges.) His poem prompted me to write the following response.*

The world does not need words, but I do,

for reasons both mysterious and plain.

I need the firm and solid sound of "thud,"

the sharp edge of "click" and the sibilance of "whisper."

I need words like "whoosh," and "zip," and "splinter"

to savor and enjoy.

The world does not need words, but we do:

Being human, we need words for

gluttony and greed, for anger, fraud, and lust.

To name is to know and to remember -

at least until the next time we forget.

The world does not need words, but we do:

Words like truth and beauty, fear and wonder,

glory, grace and gratitude. We need these words

to find our place in the world that does not need words,

that articulates itself in sunlight, leaves and shadows,

but we, limited as we are, articulate ourselves

only through sentences and through song.    

To be sure, as Patrick Gilger suggests in the passage quoted to the left, there are times when all our words are only vain efforts to "drape the white sheet of language over ... emptiness." Still, we need to know, to name and to remember. To probe at the edges of mystery for whatever sense we can grasp.        

Words are often the best tools at hand. (Although words are not the only symbols in the human repertoire of knowing.) Sound and silence, sentence and song, the cadences of language lead us toward, and at least part-way into, the mysteries of meaning.

                                                        -- Bill

* Phrases in italics are taken from Gioia's poem.



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Sincerely,  Bill Howden & Jan Davis
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