Spirit Matters: Using the gift of language to grow the soul

Jerrilyn Zavada Novak

This morning, after I woke up and spent my usual 20 minutes in silent prayer, I picked up my phone to check my social media accounts.

As I began scrolling, I noticed the following quote from author Ursula K. Le Guin:

Socrates said, ‘The misuse of language induces evil in the soul.’ He wasn’t talking about grammar. To misuse language is to use it the way politicians and advertisers do, for profit, without taking responsibility for what the words mean. Language used as a means to get power or make money goes wrong: It lies. Language used as an end in itself, to sing a poem or tell a story, goes right, goes towards the truth.

A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.”

The quote deeply resonated with me, so I shared it on my page. When I went back to my newsfeed, I noticed the exact same quote, shared by someone else, not affiliated with the first person who posted it.

Needless to say, the ears of my heart perked up. This, to me, is one of those rare, clear signs from Spirit to pay attention.

So, basically, all of this quote. All of it.

We don’t have to look far these days to see how “the misuse of language induces evil in the soul.” Sadly, unless we are intentionally seeking otherwise, it can be difficult to notice or hear the beauty when language is used “as an end in itself, to sing a poem, or tell a story.” This beauty is too often drowned out by all the noise, both inside and outside of us.

I have strong feelings about the power of language to harm or heal, and have been on the receiving end of both intentional uses of it. I’m pretty sure this passion for the power of language and how it is used is inscribed in my soul’s DNA. Having English teachers such as Bunny Cave, Beverly Parsons and Eileen Driscoll in my formative schooling years set this passion free.

I have been in an extended period of liminal space, listening for clear direction on where and how to focus my energies. I often struggle with imposter syndrome, so actually focusing and taking action can be very difficult for me, if not impossible. To be fair, I know this is not uncommon for writers, or creative people in general, even despite previous successes in our fields.

Over the past week and a half, I have been devouring a novel by Tracy Higley, called “Nightfall in the Garden of Deep Time.” It was written for people like us, who have difficulty “putting our stuff” out into the world, thinking we aren’t good enough, or our message, whatever it is, is meaningless and trite.

Without giving away any of the storyline to this novel, I will just say that we as writers and artists are connected in a real way with those who came before us, and it is our responsibility to create. At the risk of using a double negative: we can’t not do it.

All of those who have gone before us have struggled in some way, even those who are considered the heavy hitters in our world today.

Emily Dickinson’s poems didn’t see the light of day until after she died. Vincent Van Gogh’s brilliance didn’t really begin to shine until five years after his death, when his artwork began to be widely circulated. This was a man who cut off his own ear, and eventually took his own life.

(Incidentally, in Season 5, Episode 10 of Dr. Who, called “Vincent and the Doctor,” there is a breathtaking scene in an art gallery that is worth looking up on YouTube. This scene, too, reminds creatives of the significance of their divinely-bestowed talents.)

What would our world and our souls be like if the likes of Emily Dickinson and Vincent Van Gogh never existed, or if they didn’t pay heed to their creative muses?

Their work, and the works of so many other creatives throughout history, is the sweet nectar that grows our innermost being, and speaks a language deeper than time and space.

The language of the soul.

To whom and how far our own creative works reach doesn’t matter, and is really none of our business. And it doesn’t even matter if our works are considered “good,” whatever that means.

What matters is that we have the courage to share our talents, gifts and hard-earned wisdom and insights, so they can do the work they were intended to do from the beginning of time.

Color the world with soulfulness.

SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column by Jerrilyn Zavada Novak that examines experiences common to the human spirit. Contact her at jzblue33@yahoo.com.

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