The Brothers Grimm, Jacob (born 1785) and Wilhelm (born 1786), had six younger brothers and a sister. What kind of story telling took place in their childhood household? Charmed, the Brothers Grimm collected fairy tales and passed them on to us.
The brothers were captivated not only by stories but also by words. Toward the end of their lives they focused on writing the first German-language dictionary. Having completed the letter D, Wilhelm died in 1859. His older brother, Jacob, lived another four years completing the letters A, B, C and E. Jacob was working on Frucht (fruit) when he collapsed at his desk – like a cowboy dying with his boots on.
In 1883 – twenty years after Jacob Grimm’s death – his German words were translated with these English words: A yet stronger power lies in the spoken word, and all nations use it both for blessing and cursing. But these, to be effective, must be choice, well knit, rhythmic words, must have lilt and tune; hence all that is strong in the speech wielded by priest, physician, magician, is allied to the forms of poetry (Jacob Grimm, “Teutonic Mythology,” translated by Stallybrass, 1883).
If the translator, Stallybrass, were present, we would say: “What a skilled translator you were – to use words that have their own lilt and tune.”
Poetic words can charm us – from Latin – carmen “song, verse, religious formula,” – from canere “to sing” (see “chant” and “enchant”). Think of a “canary” singing its heart out. Words can also have an allure – Old French aleurer – “to attract, captivate; train a falcon to hunt,” from à “to” + loirre “falconer’s lure.” Words can entice the soul to sing and soar.
Ah, but too often words do not. The words themselves may be at fault – false or fickle – or we may not trust the one who speaks them. Or we may be distracted or discouraged. Violence of some kind may be afoot – perhaps the reader or the language has suffered from some kind of abuse. As an alternative, we may seek cheap thrills to entertain us temporarily. We surmise: Words that could make the soul sing and soar would be too good to be true.
In our arrogance we may miss the muse of the word-music because we think we know better. Consider this illustration: in 2003, the completed Brothers Grimm Dictionary, now with 331,056 entries, finally became available online after the work was delayed five years. Why so long? The typing had to be out-sourced. Native German speaker’s tended unconsciously to correct spelling “mistakes” of entries which were obsolescent – but true – spellings. As a result, two groups of typists in Nanking, China, were hired to key in the entries.
Those of us who say we follow Christ can also miss his words or music – making corrections based on our own presumed familiarity – not on the original score.
Still there are words that give our souls lilt and tune. The Bible tells us that God sings with words; his Spirit soars with words. Created in his image, we resonate. Recognizing that Jesus is the choicest possible Word made flesh, we have new ears to hear and new hearts to respond. In Christ, the deepest parts of who we are have been charmed and allured. There is more than demand and failure, drudgery or speed, despair or superficiality. Retuned, we echo God from our core.
And as great as creation and redemption are, there is still more. This profound attraction – words helping our souls sing and soar – is a very present phenomenon – poetry – a written or spoken work of art. We are God’s workmanship (Greek: poema), created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
Regular folks like us are more than we appear. We are poetry in motion – works in progress. As we read the Brothers Grimm stories – like Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, and Snow White – we implicitly realize that we are unfinished stories too – being narrated by God. What verbs, what metaphors have been/will be written into your story poem this day?
Creature, created in Christ, in you there is charm, allure and poetry – revealed or soon to be revealed!
Sucking out (some of) the marrow-nourishment from the bone-words with you,