One of the assertions of certain postmodernists is that concepts don’t exist until language creates them.Â For example, if you didn’t have a word for “love,” then not only would you not be able to recognize, define, or discern love, but love itself would not really exist for you.
Heady concept, but it’s something I think about a lot with my almost-2-year-old daughter.Â She is at the stage where she is learning new words almost daily, and it’s amazing how she begins to communicate her awareness of the world.Â One day she learns the word “apple” (OK, it’s more like “bop-bul), and the next day there are apples everywhere – in books, on wallpaper, on TV.Â She sees apples that we completely overlook, because (in my pop child development reasoning) the apple is something that she has a word and concept for, so she picks out the apple instantly.
Now, I believe that apples existed before my daughter discovered the word for them – she ate them all the time without worrying about what to call them – but her experience teaches me about the way that I learn and perceive the world.Â As I gain new concepts, I understand the world in new ways.Â For example, for years I’ve heard people refer to “Cape Cod” houses.Â Just this week, I’m embarrassed to say, I made the connection between the term “Cape Cod” and an actual Cape Cod-style house.Â Now I have a new way of thinking about houses.
I have noticed, too, that the literature and film that I consume affects how I view the world.Â Elizabeth and I have been watching The Sopranos, and I have noticed that I have to work to control my language more carefully, else I revert to my middle school ways of talking (my 13-year-old mouth = Tony Soprano’s). Â When I am constant in my devotions, and reading the Bible daily, carefully and reflectively, the Bible’s concepts of the world – its language for reality – infuse my daily life.
I was blessed to have been given A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People during my introduction as a new InterVarsity staff member. The book provides readings for each week, including weekly readings in the Psalms.Â This week, my Psalm has been Psalm 1.Â Because of my background in literature and poetry, it often strikes me how powerful the psalmists regard the Word of God to be.Â Psalm 1 begins by saying what a righteous man does not do (i.e. allow himself to conform to sinners), then switches to his positive traits:
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
There is nothing special about the blessed man, except that he loves the law – the words – of God.Â The language of God centers him, blesses him, and changes his whole life.
Perhaps these postmodernists are on to something.