For a long time now, the comma has been an important symbol for the United Church of Christ. You have to love a denomination that finds metaphor in punctuation. The idea started with the “God Is Still Speaking” campaign that played off of a Gracie Allen quote—“Never put a period where God has placed a comma”—and a leaning back into the words of one of our Pilgrim ancestors, John Robinson, who said, “There was more light yet to break forth. We in the UCC, therefore, love our commas. Life, after all, is one big run-on sentence.
In looking for words of hope today, I went back through my notes on John Berger’s novel, A to X: A Story in Letters, which is made up of letters from A’ida to her husband, Xavier, who is a political prisoner. The whole story is told from her letters; we never hear from him. In one of the missives later in the book, she tells him,
When I buy baklava, which is not often because I eat too many, I leave a few for her on her windowsill, with a head scarf over them so the wasps don’t come. For these little gifts we don’t thank each other with words. They are commas of care. . . . Commas of care! Punctuating our days with them is something long-term prisoners learn, isn’t it? (176-7)
Commas of care. I love the phrase.
One of the ways the comma is defined is as “a soft pause” in a sentence. It is not a full stop, but a rest or a small break. In one grammatical guide, I found this advice: “The presence or absence of a comma can change the meaning of a sentence—sometimes dramatically.” Perhaps even more so with commas of care. If life is one big run-on sentence, the soft pauses that offer us the chance to show kindness and compassion become even more crucial. In the endless stream of raging rhetoric, the moments that offer us separation and space are life-giving. We are called to punctuate our days with care, to offer glimpses of our shared humanity, to remind one another of our unbreakable belonging, to offer hope in the face of it all,