Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me. Taught by parents to an earlier generation of children as a defense against the cruel words of taunting peers, the verse betrays the reality. Name calling does hurt; think of the number of teen suicides in response to bullying.

The power of words is particularly evident in our cultural, religious and political conflicts. Wherever each of us stands on the spectrum of right to left, we know what phrases to expect from the other side and which are most effective for us to use from our own arsenal. Like an ice berg many of these words are code for a much larger load of assumptions and beliefs below the surface.

Take your own pulse for a moment. What thoughts or feelings come up with the following words? Flag. Second Amendment. Amnesty. Compromise. Forgiveness. #BlackLivesMatter. Marriage. Heritage. Amazing grace…

Our words help us declare who we are and what we stand for, our integrity. They can be weapons we use to defend ourselves or attack others. They also are tools for understanding, bridge building and reconciliation. The choice is ours – daily.

Words can inspire as in Rachel Remen’s contribution to Prayers for a Thousand Years, a compilation of hopeful expressions for the new millennium.

May we find each other in the silence between the words.

May we heal the loneliness of our expertise with the wisdom of our service.

May we honor in ourselves and all others the deep and simple impulse to live, to find sacred space and open land.

May we remember that the yearning to be holy is a part of everyone and the only hope for the next thousand years.

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