There are No Words
David R. Weiss – August 21, 2022
As I drove to Michigan City on Wednesday, I tried to think of all the “final words” I would say to Mom. The memories I’d touch on. The gratitude I’d voice. The love I’d speak again and again.
It turns out there are no words to speak.
Mom manages confused sentences here and there. I’m not sure she’s put more than two of them together before veering off into a lost direction. Mostly she says nothing at all, lingering between sound sleep and someplace between dozing and delirium.
If I speak, it’s clear my words mostly just deepen the disorientation that engulfs her. I have named a few precious memories. I have said “thank you.” And I have told her I love her a couple dozen times. But I am keenly aware that I’m just throwing spaghetti at a wall—and none of it is going to stick. Truly, there are no words.
Today I just held her hand for a good long time. Making peace with the “no words” that are left to say.
I remembered Professor Ed Schick from Wartburg Seminary. My very first semester there, in a course on Matthew’s gospel, he was explaining the phrase common in Jesus’ preaching, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Sometimes translated as “drawn nigh,” sometimes as “at hand.” Ed reached out his hand, stretching it far in front of him and looked out at us. “How near?” he asked. “Close enough … to touch. At hand.”
A simple wordplay to make a point. But it became the shape of my life. That somehow the kingdom of God is what transpires at the end of our fingertips. My life-contorting passion for doing justice, chasing after mercy, and walking humbly with God was rooted in that phrase, “at hand.” My conviction, presented in a kaleidoscope of images over the years, that compassion is the very heart of God—was born right there in Ed’s class.
The kingdom of God—the life-changing, world-transforming dynamism at the heart of All That Is—it appears in the space that closes between two human lives in the moment of touch.
In the warm washcloth used to wipe Mom’s face. In the awkward intimacy as Deb and I work to change her wet pajama bottoms. In gently bringing the sippy cup to her lips. In lifting her—with a wordless grunt—into bed when she has collapsed in my arms. And in simply holding her hand.
There are no words. But the kingdom of God has surely drawn nigh.
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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.