All Hail the Verb!

verbVerbs know how to party. Nouns might be great to look at, but they just sit around. Adjectives inevitably take up your time; adverbs always seem needy; and those innocuous articles are wallflowers. Introduce a lively verb to the crowd, however, and everyone sparkles. Suddenly there’s dancing and arguing and necking behind the sofa.

Bring on the verbs, I say! 

Yesterday I reread a passage in David Bayles and Ted Orland’s classic Art & Fear that’s my kind of grammar lesson: “To the critic, art is a noun.… To the artist, art is a verb.” From the outside, art is static, hanging on the wall or bound in a book. From the inside, art is dynamic, mysterious, engaging, transformative… It’s a force the artist enters or harnesses or is overcome by; it’s a complex, fascinating evolution initiated but by no means controlled by the artist.

This is why I write. In writing, expression and discovery meet. Writing is where I become, and where I participate in the world becoming. I write to get inside the Verb.

Now, the Christian mystics and process theologians also say God is not a noun but a verb. What they’re doing is taking that painting off the wall or that book off the shelf and crawling into its generative, evolutionary energy. God’s the life of the party! The trouble with thinking this way, though, is that we humans have an easier time relating to nouns (sofa, beer, socks) than to verbs (asking, crying, being). I can’t even write the word God in a sentence without making it a noun. Or if I did, you’d assume my effort to God was presumptuous or simply odd.

What might it mean to understand our divine source as becoming, as a life-giving infusion in and among us—as sheer verbiness? Join the party and find out.                                                            –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew


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