Squiggles and Dots

A few days ago our daughter Betsy sent us a photo of Ellie Rose leafing through a copy of a magazine. Ellie is fifteen months old, so the photo isn’t really evidence of her precocity, especially since the section she was looking through at the time is filled with ads for graduate schools and seminaries. But it did start me thinking about forms of communication, and especially about communication that makes use of words.

Ellie reading a magazine
Ellie Rose enjoys the latest issue of Christianity Today. (Photo Courtesy of Betsy Walsh Stoltzfus)

I don’t know that all creatures communicate—do bacteria communicate, for example?*—but many creatures certainly do. Birds and many mammals, including whales and porpoises, communicate through vocalizations. Crickets, cicadas, and katydids communicate through sound produced by their wings and other parts of their anatomies. Fireflies communicate with a beacon produced by bioluminescence. Many creatures also communicate through gesture. Bees communicate about the location of nectar and pollen sources through waggling dances they do in the hive. It seems certain that starlings dancing around the sky (a phenomenon called a murmuration) have some form of communication that allows them to move so precisely. Fish that swim in groups or schools also seem to communicate. Ants communicate with their feelers and with chemicals released by their bodies.

People communicate with gestures, too, with claps, taps, and raps, and with vocalizations like hmm and AAAHH. But our primary communication is done with squiggles and dots that we combine to make letters and words and sentences. That’s what makes the photo of Ellie with her copy of Christianity Today so interesting. She’s beginning to learn that the squiggles and dots she sees on the printed page are invested with magic that lets them become stories or instructions for putting LEGOs kits together.

God cares about how we use those squiggles and dots, from the very simple

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” in Proverbs 25:11 to

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” in Colossians 3:16 to

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” in Ephesians 4:29 to

“If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” in James 3:2.

If you listen to enough radio and television, or if you spend enough time on Facebook, you know that we can be prone to misuse words as we mock and curse one another.

As we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, we recognize that as a prophet he chose and used words very carefully. No doubt some of his listeners and readers chafed at the words he chose, but they were not words of mockery and cursing. They were the words of honest rebuke and chastisement. They were also the words of hope, of redemption and reconciliation, and of better times and better places that were sure to come, even if he himself did not get to see them.

May the words we choose in 2016 also be words of hope and encouragement as well.

Thanks as always for stopping by!

*It turns out, bacteria do communicate with one another and, it seems, with other creatures. Enjoy!

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One thought on “Squiggles and Dots

  1. Jody 19 January, 2016 / 9:53 pm

    Lovely reminder! You have always had a way with words.

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