Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The Quest for Words, by Georgie Tennant

“Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us.” 
John 1 v 14 NET

Last month, my sister lost her life to cancer.  Her baby son was seven months old at the time and her daughter turned six that week.  In the days leading up to it and in those that followed, two phrases echoed, everywhere I went: “I don’t know what to say,” and “I have no words.”  These have been familiar sentiments to me over the last six months since her re-diagnosis - on social media, in the school playground, at church, at her funeral.  I suspect I’m not done with them yet.

The problem is that we live in a world of words.  We use them to define, quantify, analyse, explain, solve, comfort.  Words feel like our only currency and they trickle and roar, calm and motivate, comfort and inspire.  Well chosen, they are every bit fit for purpose.  Thoughtless, careless and wrongly judged, they hurt.

We hit hard things and they seem to us to fail, inadequate to reach in to difficult depths of tragedy and loss.  As close family and friends, we struggle to find the right ones and as writers, we long to express even the tiniest sentiment a tempest-tossed soul might find comforting and able to cling to amid their personal storms.

I have been on an unquenchable quest for words. Words to soothe my sister and give her hope in those last months.  Words from others or God that might help me find an anchor in raging seas.  Words in books and songs that somehow express, better than I could, the deep agonies of a shaken spirit and breaking heart.  Words that might signpost the way for me to be made whole again, to reposition myself on firmer ground.

Like a forensic scientist running facial recognition software, looking for a perfect 100% match, I have scoured books, articles, poems, songs, ultimately accepting that it is impossible to find the exact combination of words that will ‘hit the spot’ and express my feelings completely.  Even if I write something I believe will fit better and help people in similar situations (and I hope one day to do so), my words will still only ever be a part-match -  because we are all unique and feel facets of our unique experiences in our fully unique ways (this feels obvious, but how easily we forget).

The closest I have come to finding words that echo some of the questions and cries of my heart are one song and one book.  Danny Gokey’s ‘Tell Your Heart to Beat Again,’ jump starts mine.  Pete Grieg’s ‘God On Mute,’ is helping me develop a theology for the devastating times I am in.  I write my own words and read them back to myself because they alone can pinpoint what I am feeling, record where I have been and, eventually, remind me of how far I have come.

I end this post with a poem I wrote as my sister’s health deteriorated and I felt desperately lost for words.  I pray, as writers, at the very least, we can be signposts, directing other weary travellers towards the Living Word, who is the only 100% match for all situations, for all of time.

           No Words

The words are out of reach today.
They hang on the boughs,
Not quite ripe or right.
In a different season,
They might have tumbled
Into my basket, landed
In an order that might have made
An adequately solid sentence.

But today –
When the prayed-for miracle
Feels further off,
And the hoped-for healing
Hasn’t happened,
The words taunt me,
Hanging on the highest branches,
Just beyond the arc of my arm.

Awkward silence settles.
I wait, without words,
Willing them to come.

But instead of words falling from the trees,
A rustling in the branches,
A warm wind,
Heralds the coming
Of a different Word –
Not a word from my tongue
Or my pen or those unripe boughs,

But The Word,
The Living Word,
The Word-Made-Flesh,
Infusing the silence
With His quiet presence.
Even without words,
His life-breath in me
Makes me alive,
Awakens hope in me afresh.

The myriad words
Are too high, unripe, not right.
I rest from trying to reach them;
I no longer need them.
With fresh certainty,
I know
That The Word,
Alive in me,
Is all that’s needed
To speak volumes,
In silence,
To a hurting world.

Georgie Tennant is a secondary school English teacher in a Norfolk Comprehensive.  She is married, with two sons, aged 9 and 6, who keep her exceptionally busy! She feels intimidated by having to provide an author-biography, when her writing only extends, currently, to attempting to blog, writing the ‘Thought for the Week’ for the local paper occasionally, and having a poem published in a book from a National Poetry Competition! Her musings about life can be found on her blog:


  1. That's a brilliant poem. What a great image - "not quite ripe or right". Perfect.

  2. Brilliant - honest, heart-wrenching, but full of hope.

  3. Thank you,Georgie.Words can never express the grief that our family,and Rebecca's friends,feel at our terrible loss,but your poem has helped your Nan and Grand-dad.

  4. I really do like that metaphor - words hanging from boughs, out of reach. It captures the idea perfectly.

  5. Wow. You may consider yourself bereft of the right words to say at the moment, but I don't agree. These are profound, wise, honest, vulnerable and beautiful. Please keep writing them down, Georgie. And you have our love and hugs.

  6. Great poem. I'm so sorry for your loss xx

  7. An amazing post - moving and beautifully written. Thank you so much for sharing them with us. Love and prayers for your family x

  8. Nine years ago, I supported my friend and prayer partner in the last four months of her life. Every time I set out for the hospice, I felt inadequate - in word and deed. I used to shout at God as I drove there :'I need you NOW. Now, do you hear me?' He heard and somehow we found ways to communicate and comfort each other - to trace the rainbow through the rain, as the old hymn has it. God bless you. Hang in there. It won't ever get easy but it will get bearable.

  9. Thank you all for your lovely comments and support ☺️

  10. So very sorry to hear of your bereavement. Will be praying for you and for your sister's young family.