Words Matter

Cover: Adapted from “The Well,” © Joey Hartmann-Dow, usandweart.com

As expressions of our experience, as links between a speaker and listener in real time, as communications from ancestors to descendants across the ages, as seeds around which groups can crystallize in shared belief, and even as religious experiences in themselves: words matter. The Gospel of John, which has long been a key text for Quaker theologians in part because of its rich metaphor of the Light, wastes no time: “In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

I’m a verbal person (which will come at absolutely no surprise to you), so the theme of this month’s Friends Journal is right up my alley: the Language of Faith. The stories we have collected in this issue invite our reflection, our envisioning of possibilities, and our exploration of our own words and how we use them.

Words have set Friends apart since the beginning. The peculiar people called Quakers used peculiar words to make a point about equality and the falsity of social rank when all men and women possessed the Divine spark. While “thee” and “thou” may have fallen out of use in English, the leveling effect intended by their use actually did win out: we no longer use different second-person pronouns in English depending on our place in the social hierarchy.

Rhiannon Grant’s “The Quaker Vocabulary of Tomorrow” looks at where Quakers’ language might take us next. I’d love to hear from you whether you agree, or whether you see a different direction. Mary Ann Downey’s “Walk by Faith” uses the occasion of an oft-passed church sign as a jumping-off point for a memoir of her religious experience from childhood in a Southern Baptist church, to young adulthood discovering Quakers through service, to a longtime walk in the unprogrammed Friends tradition. She notes both the importance of Scripture as a tool for rhetorical support, but also as a scaffold to get closer to the Source. In “Let Your Communication Always Be Gracious,” Barbara Schell Luetke shares about the interplay of language and accessibility. She recounts her history as a parent of children who are deaf, advocating for their inclusion in the verbal world of life and faith, connecting it to our present day and its new challenges for inclusion in the era of Zoom and hybrid gatherings. Finally, she discusses her own journey in trying to exercise peacefulness in her choice of words.

Speaking of journeys, if our cover art for this issue, by Friend Joey Hartmann-Dow, makes you long for a walk in the woods, you can thank Michael Levi’s piece, “Maps and Spirit,” for inspiring us to commission a suitably evocative image. Levi riffs on cartography as a metaphor for the experience and communication of faith, and the view more than justifies the hike.


As we approach the end of 2021 together, I want to thank you, dear reader, for being on this journey with me. By supporting Friends Journal with your gifts, you bring wonderful stories of Quaker faith and experience forth to the world, so that more people every day may be inspired and drawn to walk this path with us. Friends Journal, the QuakerSpeak videos, and Quaker.org—with your financial support, these ministries will thrive in 2022 and beyond. Blessings to you this season for peace, for light, and for love. May you find the words to express your deepest truth.

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