02 December, 2015

What's in a word?

(Cross post from Scott Elliff - Adventagain.blogspot.com)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart...

As one who loves to speak and write, I have always been aware of the power of words.

Dr. Maya Angelou said this about them: “Words are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.”

In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz writes, “The word is not just a sound or a written symbol. The word is a force…your word is pure magic, and misuse of your word is black magic.” Wow!

With such apparent power, why then are we so casual with words? Yes, we are casual, even reckless with words that wield the power to change a life, to change the world.

Perhaps one of the words we treat most casually is the word, “love.” The word for which scores of people hunger is either reserved for the deepest of bonds, or tossed about freely and carelessly: “I just love this dress!” “I love my wife!” “I love that song!” “You are my one true love.” “This steak sauce is delicious—I just love it!”

Whether a noun or a verb, used either to describe a fervent passion or simply a preference, such an important word should be carefully used or there is the risk that its power is marginalized.

Certainly, Christ Himself must have given careful consideration to the power of this word when he was asked to name the greatest commandment. He began with the words each man to whom he spoke that day knew from his childhood, Sh’ma Yisrael, Adoinai Eloheinu, Adonai E’chad (“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One"). Then he made it perfectly clear that the greatest commandment had little to do with laws, rules, or regulations.

It was, is, and will always be about love.

In this instance, the word is a verb. Action is expected. Initiative is required. Results are anticipated.

The ancient Hebrew commandment first exhorts one to love the Lord God with one’s whole heart. Through the ages, the heart has been the symbolic representation of our emotions. Yes, this ancient commandment first and foremost challenges us to take the emotion of love that fills the heart and channel it into action. We must do more than feel something.

We must act.

As Kathy wrote in our first installment for Advent, Mary is our example for “loving with the whole heart.” Now, before I go on, I know some like to divide readers of scripture into two camps: those read with a literal perspective, and others who take a more figurative, symbolic approach. It’s a shame that so many see this as an “either / or” proposition, rather than agreeing that scripture can be read both literally and symbolically. It seems to me that God’s story is big enough to reside on both sides, in between, and all around.

As the Nativity narrative begins in the Gospel of Luke, a barely-teenaged Mary gets big news from a visiting angel: she is a pregnant virgin and God is the father! Her immediate response to the message is to depart hastily to visit an older cousin in another town. Elizabeth, whom we are led to believe has not seen her much younger cousin in some time, greets Mary with an apparent message of joy and clairvoyance—her own unborn child leaps in her womb at the sight of the future Mother of God. The entire scene wraps up with Mary’s lyrical song of praise, the Magnificat, and we learn that she stays to enjoy an extended visit with Elizabeth and her husband.

Read literally, the whole scenario is mind-boggling, defying common sense, logic and science. Certainly, it takes an incredible leap of faith to accept such a proposition, and millions across the ages have taken just that leap. And many, undoubtedly, would enjoy stopping here and debating whether or not things happened just as they have been written.

But let’s go further. Read symbolically, Mary represents many ideals: purity, innocence, humility, and obedience, to name a few. In the narrative, she comes across as one completely devoid of ego, emptied entirely of herself.

In a nutshell:  It is not about her.

Kathy wrote this last Sunday:  Amidst all of the unexpected surprises, all the chaos, all the stress, and the wrappings and tinsel…can I simply give my whole heart of love to those around me?

It occurs to me that I cannot do that unless, like Mary, I get out of my own way. I am my own worst enemy. It’s hard to love God with my whole heart when I am so busy trying to be God, feebly attempting to control all the circumstances and people in my life.

I am not alone, apparently, inhabiting the "all about me" space . We live in a narcissistic world where people are consumed by selfies and “likes.” We fret over appearances. And tragically, in these days, we see people of all faiths, traditions, and cultures using religion like a blunt instrument to bludgeon one another, to be “right” so that others are “wrong."

Such is “ego,” a word some have cleverly refashioned as an acronym for “edge God out.” That is not the “whole heart” love of Mary. That is not the love we are called to show as followers of Christ.

Unless I am willing to empty myself of my ego, my sense of personal importance, my notion that “it’s always about me,” I will find myself blocked or, worse, tripping and falling in my attempts to act in love, and not simply to feel love.

Mary reminds me: When my ego is in the way, I block the power of that magical word, love.

Blog Archive