Gertrude Stein, the American writer, was not being pretentious when she wrote, ‘A rose is a rose is a rose.’ She was trying to emphasise the essence of the rose, to make us look beyond the label. The trouble today is that we use words such as love, peace, God and so on without reflecting on their true meaning. Words have become facts, but words are also symbols pointing the way to deeper meanings. Words can also fail one. In one of his poems, Pope John Paul 11 writes:
Sometimes it happens in conversation: we stand
Facing truth, and lack the words,
Have no gesture, no sign,
And yet, we feel, no words, no gesture
Or sign would convey the whole image
That we must enter alone and face like Jacob.
Those who inculcate silent repetition and reflection on a particular text into their practice of meditation can find the underlying mystery of the words begins to penetrate their life. Those who say the Psalms daily, for example, find that certain lines resonate deeply with their experience:
As one whom his mother comforts.
My heart is ready, O my God.
Then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.
If we stop short at the surface meaning of the words we shall never experience them as living words, but if we truly meditate upon them we shall, in the words of John Rowlands Pritchard, begin ‘to hear the words of secret silence’.