Every Breath We Take

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1 (NRSV)

According to the Gospel of John the world begins with the Word. Communication requires two, not just one. The Tao Te Ching, the book of wisdom in Taoism, notes that:

The Tao gives birth to One
One gives birth to Two
Two gives birth to Three
Three gives birth to all things

In the astonishing clarity of the prologue to the gospel the writer gives us three phrases that build in intensity, each one leaping farther into the unknown.

“In the beginning was the Word.”

Not simply a word, but the Word. It’s a Word that is mysterious, yet so encompassing that the singular article exists to create the One that is all and communes with all.

But lest we think that this Word is alone, there is from the beginning a simple preposition, “with,” that evokes the image of relationship.

“And the Word was with God.”

This is not just proximity, an accident of spatial congruence that creates a false sense of belonging. To be with someone implies a confluence, a commingling, a relationship that continues even when the two are separated. “Are you with someone?” we ask the stranger at a party or a gathering. ‘Yes,’ comes the reply, ‘I’m just waiting for my friend.’ “And the Word was with God.”

Then comes the third phrase that jolts us with its audacity.

“And the Word was God.”

Not only is the Word with God, the Word is God. And it implies that the eternal One creates out of desire: it takes two to tango, it takes two to communicate. Bruce Springsteen and the Book of Proverbs say, ‘Two hearts are better than one.’

Everything begins with communication, with the Word. Communication gives rise to communion with the other, the one to whom we turn, without whom we are but silence beating the air, the sound of one hand clapping, a tree falling forever in a forest born before sound and light.

Everything and everyone begins with the Word; not just a word but the Word, and the Word is life and light and love. It brings us into being for each other, for without each other we are simply syllables looking for completion. Our lives against the vastness of the light of the stars are so fragile that we are drawn to each other in order to reflect God’s glory to each other.

The Word was and is God and thus is there from the beginning. The beginning is not just the beginning of us or of our glorious, fragile world, but a beginning of which we cannot conceive because we have no way of grasping how time can expand in all directions at once. We think in linear fashion: front to back, up and down, left to right, start to finish, but this beginning takes us back and back until, gasping, we are drawn in through the first word to some place infinitely beyond the beginning point.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” That is a description of communication in action, of communion in process. That Word creates community within itself, and every time we open our mouths to speak we take on the risk to become one with that community, a community that exists within us and without which we are not complete. But as Thomas Merton reminds us, “The deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless. It is beyond words, beyond speech, beyond concept.” The Word draws us into communion.

Communion is that possibility that exists between people—the eternal possibility—that we may actually come to understand one another, the first step toward loving another. In all our faltering attempts at communication, with every word that rises up from within us, that possibility is there. It is not yet embodied, not yet made flesh until breathed out in our words, but it is there. So in every breath we take—no matter what the word is—in that breath not yet become a word lies the hope for true understanding between you and I. Between Sunni and Shiite, Protestant and Catholic, homophobic and gay, progressive and conservative, man and woman, Israeli and Palestinian, Tutsi and Hutu, sex worker and client, border guard and immigrant.

Once upon a time God came to this earth; the Word became flesh and lived here with us. Now the Word continues in our communion with one another. The infinite possibility for peace is literally within us at every moment if we will imagine our words to be the Word that came into the world to bring us light.

“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

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