Author Archives: Mike Lewinski

The Proliferation of the Word

In the novel House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday, there’s an interesting sermon given by a native American preacher on John 1:1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

And old John, he must have fallen down on his knees. Man, he must have been shaking and laughing and crying and yelling and praying – all at the same time – and he must have been drunk and delirious with the Truth. You see, he had lived all his life waiting for that one moment, and it came, and it took him by surprise, and it was gone. And he said, ‘In the beginning was the Word….’ And man, right then and there he should have stopped. There was nothing more to say, but he went on. He had said all there was to say, everything, but he went on. ‘In the beginning was the Word….’ Brothers and sisters, that was the Truth, the whole of it, the essential and eternal Truth, the bone and blood and muscle of the Truth. But he went on, old John, because he was a preacher. The perfect vision faded from his mind, and he went on. The instant passed, and then he had nothing but a memory. He was desperate and confused, and in his confusion he stumbled and went on. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ He went on to talk about Jews and Jerusalem, Levites and Pharisees, Moses and Philip and Andrew and Peter. Don’t you see? Old John had to go on. That cat had a whole lot at stake. He couldn’t let the Truth alone. He couldn’t see that he had come to the end of the Truth, and he went on. He tried to make it bigger and better than it was, but instead he only demeaned and encumbered it. He made it soft and big with fat. He was a preacher, and he made a complex sentence of the Truth, two sentences, three, a paragraph. He made a sermon and theology of the Truth. He imposed his idea of God upon the everlasting Truth. ‘In the beginning was the Word….’ And that is all there was, and it was enough….

In the white man’s world, language, too — and the way which the white man thinks of it–has undergone a process of change. The white man takes such things as words and literatures for granted, as indeed he must, for nothing in his world is so commonplace. On every side of him there are words by the millions, an unending succession of pamphlets and papers, letters and books, bills and bulletins, commentaries and conversations. He has diluted and multiplied the Word, and words have begun to close in on him. He is sated and insensitive; his regard for language — for the Word itself — as an instrument of creation has diminished nearly to the point of no return. It may be that he will perish by the Word.