St. Olaf College | The Lutheran Center

Words Create Worlds

In a time when our public discourse is marked with conflict and divisiveness, how do we think about words and the power of human speech? In her latest Church Anew blog post, Program Director for Congregational Thriving, Rev. Dr. Char Rachuy Cox, interweaves her own experiences with theological musings to ponder what words are and what words do. Through her reflections, she beckons us to embrace our ability to speak as a holy act of imaginative gift-giving that can open up new ways of being with one another and create worlds of good.
Photo by Mark de Jong on Unsplash

I am a lover of words.

I love what words are, and I love what words do.

When I was a child,

my three favorite books were

the white dictionary,

the red thesaurus,

and the green book of rhyming words.

I spent countless hours

trying on new words for size,

tasting them in my mouth,

savoring them in my ear,

and settling them into my mind.

Words, you see,

seemed to crack open a window

into worlds as yet unimagined.


I especially liked big words

with lots of syllables

that rolled around in my mouth

like a marble in pinball machine,

just for the privilege of being spoken out loud.

But then in high school,

I had a teacher who taught me

to never use a 50-cent word

when a nickel word will do.

“Think,” he said

“about the power of what most people would call


like prepositions.”

To prove his point,

he had each of us choose one preposition

about which we had to write

a poem,

an essay,

and a short story.

His directions were so simple

that they seemed impossible:

“see what kind of world a preposition can create,”

he said.

“If you can grasp the power of the preposition,

you will begin to scratch the surface

of the power of words.”


The preposition that I chose

was “with.”


I remember nothing that I wrote,

but I do remember the feeling of the exercise,

something akin to a

life-changing “aha.”

Words are not neutral –

even the little ones,

I learned.

Words are laden with inherent power.

They can be a weapon,

or they can be shield.

They can create,

or they can destroy.

Regardless of the moral dictums of “good behavior,”

words cannot be taken back.

They cannot be un-spoken.

The exhale cannot be inhaled.

And users of words?

Well, users of words

bear both the privilege

and the burden of that power.

It seemed,

in that “aha moment,”a weighty thing,

that power,

to be thrust upon the shoulders of anyone,

but especially high school students,


Several years later

When I read

“Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity,”

by Abraham Joshua Heschel,

three words leapt off the page

and returned that adolescent

classroom exercise not only to my memory,

but to the everyday living of my life.

“Words create worlds,”

Heschel’s daughter, Susannah, wrote

of the wisdom her father taught her.





Indeed they do,

and theologically we say that it is so.

In one creation story,

God speaks –

God utters words –

Breath-given-voice –

and all that is

comes into being.

It is through the breathed-out creativity of God

in and through words –

“and God said” –

that creation comes into existence.

It is through the expelled breath of God,

uttered and blown across the face of the deep,

that the imagination of God comes to life.

One could assert

That without words –

all would still be formless void.

Words create worlds.


In the other creation story,

When God gives away God’s breath,

the human creature comes to life.

And with God’s breath,

God gives away God’s voice,

God’s ability to utter not just sounds –

But words.

With this holy generosity,

the human’s life becomes inspired with power,

animated by God’s own dynamic breath,

God’s own dynamic Word.


the holy privilege of the spoken word –

of breath-given-voice –

is an imitative act of creative,

imaginative gift-giving,

breathing out power

to give life away.

Words create worlds.


But what kind of world do we create with our words,

with this holy, creative power?


I return often to these musings,

but they have especially been on my mind as of late

as each day seems to widen the chasm

in our ever-increasing divisive way of being –

and way of speaking –

with one another.

And in my musings, I keep returning

not just to the weighty privilege

and the holy burden of words –

but to that little, nickel word

through which I chose to fulfill that high school assignment,

oh, so long ago –





For you see,

we who are cross-marked

and Spirit-sealed

have been both gifted and tasked

with speaking not just any words –

not carelessly or thoughtlessly

tossing about words

as if they are nothing;

rather we have been both gifted and tasked with

words that are in the service of the Word –

the Word –

through whom all things came into being,

through whom we have all received grace upon grace.

We have been both gifted and tasked

with the holy exhale that

brings to life among us

God who is –

with us always,

even unto the end of the age.

We have been gifted and tasked

with witness –

by and through our words –

to the withness of God –

a withness that not only makes

a withness with one another possible,

but that indeed is our call as human creatures,

tasked with stewarding our planet home.


Now, I have no magic wand to wave

that will somehow

bind up the wounds and bridge the divide

of our fracturing common life,

but I do wonder,

and I imagine,

and I hope

that maybe –

just maybe

a reminder that

words create worlds

will beckon us again and anew

to remember that the same Spirit

who went out in the rush of mighty wind

bringing forth speech –

that same Spirit

fills each of us –

and all of us

so that

when words come forth from our mouths,

they might be filled with the creative power of life,

rather than the destructive force of death.

They might imitate the holy act

of imaginative gift giving,

breathing out power that gives life away

and cracks open a window to yet unimagined ways

of living –

truly living –

with one another.


speak Word

into the chaos

over the void

in my now —

with me

to me

through me

bring me to life

that your breath might voice speech in me

breathe into me your Word

that I might breathe out your life in speech.

Used with permission. Originally posted on Church Anew, a ministry of St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie, MN.