by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM June 28, 2020
A decade ago, I lost an earring. Only one, of course, as seems to be the way with earrings, socks, and gloves. The loss of just one of a pair makes their absence more striking and noticeable. My lost earring was costume jewelry, of slight value, but it was a gift from a dear friend and held particular meaning for me.
I suspect in the jostle of my morning walk the earring had loosened, slipped from my ear, and landed on a soft bed of grass. For days afterwards, whenever I took that same path I would scan the ground, expecting to see a glint of silver. When, after weeks of searching, I couldn’t find the earring, I liked to imagine that a crow had discovered it, for crows, like some people, delight in shiny things. I pictured a jubilant crow proudly displaying my earring in its nest and cawing over its sparkling beauty. As time passed, the earring–whether in the crow’s nest or elsewhere–disappeared from my memory.
Something parallel happens with words. Since language is a living thing, always changing and evolving, some words cease to be part of language when they fall out of common usage. Some words are added to language to reflect new patterns of use. Words disappear from language, from memory. That’s the usual way of evolving, but the loss of certain words is cause for concern.
That concern was the genesis of the exquisite and charming book, The Lost Words. Lost, meaning no longer in our consciousness. Lost to us in the present age and lost to all who will come after us. The Lost Words came into being after a reader of the Oxford Junior Dictionary noticed that some forty common words related to nature were no longer included in the dictionary. The dropped words were left out because children weren’t using them often enough to merit a place in the reference work. Most telling, each of the excluded words had a connection to the natural world. So good-bye to acorn and bluebell and dandelion and fern and otter and willow and wren, among others. Lost. Disappeared from children’s experience and from their consciousness. Taking their place: attachment and blog and broadband and voicemail and cut-and-paste. The indoor and virtual world was displacing the outdoor and natural one.
The authors of The Lost Words set out to create a spell book of sorts, a book to conjure back some of the disappeared, from acorn to wren, to breathe new life and usage into them. Through text and watercolors, they sought to summon these words out of obscurity and help them to live again in the voices, stories, and dreams of children and adults alike.
I’m writing this in the early morning hours when I savor a silence punctuated only by birdsong, the chatter of cardinal and wren and crow. It has not been lost on me that one of the gifts of lockdown for some of us has been time to re-discover the natural world, to make or renew our acquaintance with our furry and winged and green and blooming neighbors. To deepen a wider kinship as we stroll through parks or hike local trails or are stunned by the beauty of a crimson sunset. To awaken our consciousness, to feed our souls, to return us to Eden.
As it was in the beginning, when God named all of creation and saw that it was good, may it be so in our language for us and for our children, today, tomorrow, and beyond.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Sit outside or, if that’s not possible, sit indoors by a window that offers a view of the natural world.
Simply gaze at whatever is before you.
Notice what you see, hear, feel.
Give thanks to the Holy one for creating such a wonderful world.
Before the restrictions put in place for COVID-19, I was scheduled to offer a guided retreat for the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM – Immaculata) during this time.
This retreat has been canceled but I ask you to remember in your prayer the IHM Sisters who would have been part of the retreat and the IHM Spirituality Center which made the difficult but necessary decision to protect and safeguard lives. I’m grateful for their wisdom and thoughtfulness.
To automatically subscribe to receive new posts of Mining the Now:
Go to the Home Page of Mining the Now (chriskoellhofferihm.org).
In the left-hand column above the section marked “Archives”, you’ll see the words, “Subscribe to blog via email.”
Enter your email address in the space provided and then click on “Subscribe” and
follow any prompts.
You’ll then be subscribed to automatically receive any future blog posts from Mining the Now.
Thanks for following and subscribing!