Most of our praying involves the use of words. There are some people who pray in silence, but such are few and far between. The use of words is far more common. Because such usage predominates our spiritual thinking so much, in my opinion it is not a bad idea for us in this season of Lent to take a good look at the words we use in describing our spiritual life.
Words can give us so much energy, and as a result, inspire us! Make us more optimistic in how we face this very day, if not the day after and the one after that. For example, some people might say that they are “seekers of truth.” Such a phrase sounds noble as it communicates to other people what seems to be a very high goal in that person’s life. However, consider the phrase “finder of truth,” instead of “seeker of truth.” For many people, the phrase that includes the word “finder” has even more energy yet. A “seeker” may indeed seek but always come up hands empty.
The word “finder” has more surety to it. It is a more confidant and optimistic wording. And as far as Christian thinking goes, it is more accurate indeed.
How about the words we use to describe our Lenten journey? Quite naturally we use words and phrases such as “penance,” giving things up for Lent, and “sacrificing” as our main thematic words. They are all accurate enough to describe our Lenten liturgical season, much as a “seeker of truth” is an accurate way of describing the Christian path understood in a more rudimentary way. However, consider other wording to describe the season of Lent. Consider “enlarging our hearts,” “opening ourselves up to greater healing,” and “deepening our experience and ultimately our understanding of Mercy.” Here, the understanding is that although we seem to be giving this or that up for Lent, we are communicating to ourselves and others that we are really receiving and receiving more than we think. Am I really sacrificing when in fact my heart is enlarging more by Lenten practice to experience more of God’s love? How is drawing close to God a sacrifice?
Words paint pictures. Words communicate how much or little we understand of the spiritual path.
As the spiritual path cannot be seen directly, we use words within metaphors to make sense of it.
We use words to approximate our understanding of it. Change a word or wording, and we may
find our understanding deepens. That is why so many scholars study the ancient languages when studying the Bible. One simple English Bible is hardly adequate. To get a really good understanding, one needs several English translations and a good appreciation of the ancient Biblical languages. This has always been true.
We don’t have to go that far ourselves to understating the Bible. A Bible with good footnotes and a decent commentary thrown in for good measure can take us a long way. And looking at the words we use right now to describe our Lenten journey, and changing the accordingly to more energized and optimistic wordings can take us further yet. It is all prayer, but prayer ought to take us deeper along the path, rather than leaving us in any one place. For this season of Lent, let’s go as deep as we can.
Peace, Fr. Walt