How Do We Encounter the Word in Each Other?

I’ve been thinking about the Word of God lately. What is the Word of God and how do we interact with it?1 I’ve also been thinking about how we encounter each other’s words in everyday communication. This topic is very important for my research because I am basing my methodology on communicative action, and my Trinitarian theology is based on relational ontology, which is the infinitely eternal communication of the three persons of the Trinity. How we view our encounter with words is an incredibly important theological question.

The following sketch helps me sort through four ways that we encounter the word of the other person.

  1. Monologue. One person speaks and the the other person listens. These words can either be delivered live in a public address or recorded and listened to at a later date. This is an audible process where words enter the brain through the ear.
  2. Dialogue. Two people take turns speaking to one another. This is a real-time exchange which does not allow for a great deal of self-editing. Thoughts form in the brain, the mouth and tongue move, sound waves hit the ear of the listener, the impulses pass through the interpretive filter of the listener, and then the process reverses.
  3. Text exchange. In the old days people wrote letters to one another. Today we text or Instant Message each other. There are two distinct differences between text exchange and verbal dialogue. First, the word of the other is encountered through the eyes, not the ears. Second, the response can be edited before it is delivered. The text exchange allows us to buffer our presented self through editing words in print.2
  4. Static Text. An author painstakingly writes words to be printed in a book or saved to a blog post. The reader encounters the words through the eyes and does not reply directly to the author, in most cases. The text becomes an entity in itself and allows communication to pass the boundaries of time, space, and culture.

My purpose here is simply to name these different modes of encountering the word. The next step will be to contemplate how each mode affects human communication, communicative reason, and our encounter with God.

Questions this raises are: How much does the interpretive filter affect the meaning of the words? How does the interpretive filter form? Can a person change one’s own interpretive filter? How differently are audible words processed compared to textual/visual words? How does the passivity of the listener in mode 1 and 4 impact the notion of “meaning” as opposed to the interactive nature of words in modes 2 and 3?

Just some visual thinking…


  1. view my Thketch on this question []
  2. see Turkle’s TED Talk on this. []

2 thoughts on “How Do We Encounter the Word in Each Other?”

  1. You might also consider the conversation that one has with himself/herself before a word is ever spoken or written. And if it is a person of Faith, then perhaps this self conversation can be included in the category of prayer. Without ever saying “Dear Lord” or “Amen” there might be times when one feels so close to the Lord that all of that persons ruminations of thought tend to border on a conversation of prayer.

  2. To speak or to write anything at all is first and foremost a declaration that “I have something to say”. But there are many times when I feel that I had best keep quiet and just listen and pray because words spoken without insight are nothing but a pox on humanity. And how often have I spoken before and later regretted the words that came out! Silence is golden 🙂

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