Jenny: You will confine yourself to single word responses. One word only. Do you understand?
Vastra: Truth is singular. Lies are words, words, words.
This is one of the most brilliant scenes in an all-around amazing Christmas special. Seeking an audience with the Doctor, new companion(ish) Clara must face a barrage of questions from Reptilian detective Madame Vastra. For each question, she is only allowed to speak one word in reply. The rapid-fire between them heats up beautifully, until Clara has the chance to deliver this brilliant turnaround:
Vastra: The Doctor is not kind. He is not your savior, nor anyone else’s. Not now, not ever. He stands above this world, and does not interfere in the lives of its inhabitants. Do you understand??
Clara:. . . . words.
And in that moment, even before her climactic “one word” message for the Doctor that is only a few seconds away, you know that she is going to get everything she needs. Because she gets Vastra. She understands what Vastra is trying to do. And she can catch the Great Detective in a lie just as easily as the Detective could do to one of her suspects.
Vastra’s statement about truth and lies captures my imagination. We know, of course, that it is true at its heart. It is much more difficult to lie in simple language than it is to state the truth plainly. When we need to lie, we need a story to explain the lie. When we speak the truth, the story is usually already there.
Perhaps that is part of what was going on in Jesus’ head when he spoke these words to a crowd in his Sermon on the Mount:”And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
When I think of Jesus’ instruction here, and Vastra’s thought-provoking statement, I am forced to examine my own prayer life. How often have I droned on and on before the Lord, trying to explain my requests to him? How often have I tried to rationalize my needs? How often have I drowned my requests in an ocean of qualifying statements, trying to protect myself from what God might do if he “took it wrong”?
I wonder if sometimes, as he listens to me pray, my loving and compassionate God cannot help but shake his head with a bemused smile and just say “Words, Ronnie. Words, words, words.”
Because he gets me. He knows what I am trying to do. And he can catch me in my lie. More importantly, though, he knows what I really need. He knows it deeper than could ever be expressed in a single word, deep into the wordless groanings and exultations of my heart. And he longs for me to put aside my many words and learn to communicate with him rather than just talk to him.
I don’t think God expects me to pass a “one word” test. But I do think he’s more interested in the truth than in the words that I surround it with. Food for thought as I pray this week.
(All screencaps courtesy of http://doctorwho.sonicbiro.co.uk/)