A word speaks a thousand pictures

I began to realize how powerful words are.  When they are woven carefully, words can evoke imagination and passions.  I have always preferred reading written words to watching plays or movies.  I do not really know why, but perhaps it is because in a play or a movie, words often have to compete with more visual components (such as costumes or settings).

Of course when it comes to describing an object, pictures are more appropriate than words.  ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’, it is said.  I agree.  (And that is why my presentation slides consist mainly of graphs and figures).  But when it comes to conveying an emotion, evoking imagination, I think words are the champion.

Raised as a Christian, I have read John 1 many times.  But only now I begin to think about it.  What does John say Our Lord is? The Word. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” John wrote.  And more strikingly, John began his Gospel with the allusion to the Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Why ‘the Word’? Why not ‘the Image’? After all, the account of Creation says that men are created in the image of God.  Or why not ‘the Music’?  For I think music is perhaps the only thing that comes close to words in evoking imagination, emotions and passions.

People like to share quotes (sadly, often without a proper citation of the source).  Why is that? Does that not show that men realize the beauty, the power of words?  How did kings, or queens or prime minister for that matter, burn the fighting spirit of their troops? By making great speeches. Why again was George VI so frustrated by his speech impediment? Because as the King, he did need to make speeches.  And how do people show their commitments? By making vows, pledges, or contracts.

As one who begins to appreciate the beauty and the power of words, I do appreciate the Roman Catholic Church’s efforts to ensure that her children pay careful attention to words.  The Church has issued a new English translation for the text and prayers used in the Mass, a translation that is intended to be more faithful to the Latin text.  And along with the issuance of this new translation, the Church also re-emphasize the importance of (surprise surprise!) words.  Music should not usurp the prominence of words, music should remain a fair handmaid to the words.  I am a pianist so I more or less understand what ‘usurp the prominence’ means.  Music has its own power and beauty, and we tend to pay more attention to create a stirring melody or a beautiful accompaniment that sometimes we no longer care about the words we are supposed to accompany.  That is why I welcome the recommendation (or is it an instruction?) to return to chants, even though a pianist may channel her musicality better in other types of music.


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