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Starting Point

Power, magic of words evoke mystery


Every Christmas season Ken and I used to go to pick up the mail at the post office in Conyers, Ga. The ride was not long, but we managed to cram a lot into those few miles. We talked about a lot of things. Ken is a good listener and easy to talk with.

One morning I asked him what book he was currently reading. He smiled and said that he liked to read mysteries. He told me he reads before going to bed at night and that reading a good book helps him get into another and different world. He reads in a big comfortable chair in his room. As he spoke I imagined his room and him sitting there at night, reading mysteries. And it struck me as he spoke that his words were having a calming effect on me.

As I drove, it seemed nothing short of wondrous that his words had the magic of bringing me to another world, a world I had never seen, the world of his room and his liking of mysteries. Wouldn’t it be something if we really went where words spoke about? But as it is, we only have each other and our miles together. Slow words, an easy enough ride and places to go beneath our wheels and in our minds.

I realized later how little I appreciate the magic of words. They are like little magic carpets. I look at what I write and don’t really see that the words tingle with that power of bringing another person to a place, a place that the words evoke in the mind and heart of the reader. And yet, I must believe that they are capable of just that. I have no control over the power of words. All I can do is put them together the best I can.

I think of all the words I hear in any given day -- and how all of them are invitations to pay attention, to listen, to respond, to find some sort of a resonant response to what is said. And all along, images flow through my mind as to what is being said.

As I write, it is getting late. The sun set hours ago and it is night, but there is nearly a full moon and its light is casting a soft, silvery glow over everything. The night is not that dark. I have some light to walk by. It is the kind of night when the moonlight reveals special things -- deer grazing in the fields, cats sitting patiently on the fringes of the same fields, waiting for the rustle of the grass that will give away the presence of an unsuspecting mouse. And the church steeple will glow with the light of the moon, surrounded by night mists.

I wonder if Ken is sitting in his chair and reading a good mystery, while all along we are living through such mystery. We are mysteries to ourselves, and the world around us throbs with mystery. A glance at the night sky and the beautiful moon is enough to raise the eternal questions: Where do we come from and where are we going? Ken takes respite from those questions with words on a page that offer him comfort and carry him somewhere else. And he never has to leave the comfort of his room. But the words take him places far away. Well, I suppose this spinning planet is all about mysteries: big ones, little ones and all the ones in between.

And I will walk back in a little while, walk through this mystery of life and wonder about all sorts of things. How is it that words bring us closer to who we are and where we are going and what we need for this life? And how is it that more than anything else we seem to need each other, as friends and lovers, confidantes and brothers, wives and husbands -- to talk through a world and bring the mystery ever closer with words of kindness? Talking as we ride, as we fall off to sleep, as we ride these miles together.

Fr. James Behrens lives and writes in Covington, La.

National Catholic Reporter, May 17, 2002