Tuesday’s Word: trust

trust (n):  reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety of a person or thing

trust (v):  to commit or consign with confidence

entrust (v):  put something into someone’s care or protection

While I do keep a list of words that I might want to talk about here someday, it isn’t prioritized or scheduled in any way. What I write in any given week is what is foremost on my mind, what is resonating with me in an especially meaningful way at the time.

Right now, trust occupies that place. I’m facing some uncertainties, and it is hard to keep anxiety at bay. A few dear friends are walking through this time with me, reminding me to breathe, encouraging me to trust in the One who holds us all in his hands.

I need to remember – at times like this, at all times – that although I often feel instinctively whether I can trust a person I’ve just met, trust is not just an instinct, not a feeling.

Trust is based upon knowledge of the character of the One upon whom I rely: it is an intellectual assent, based upon evidence and experience, to his integrity, strength, and ability to do what is good and right – what is best – for me. Regardless of how I feel, I can entrust my health, my safety, my fears, my dreams, my future into his protection in confidence that He will lovingly care for me.

Tuesday’s Word: blessing

God’s favor and protection

the acts or words of one who blesses

something promoting or contributing to happiness,
well-being, or prosperity; a boon

approbation, approval, encouragement

sanction or support

special favor, mercy, or benefit

The definitions of a blessing cover a broad range, but it seems to me that whichever way you look at it, a blessing is a gift outright. It comes from somewhere outside ourselves, beyond our reach to grasp. We can’t buy it with money or earn it with merit. We can only receive it open-heartedly, accepting it as pure grace.

Yet in the remarkable economy of God, we are somehow empowered to bestow blessings on others. Though we don’t possess the means to manufacture or ensure a boon for ourselves, we are mysteriously enabled to channel favor, mercy, and encouragement to those around us and to contribute to their happiness and well-being.

Tuesday’s Word: ritual

ritual:  an established or prescribed procedure for a religious or other rite; observance of set forms in public worship

Ritual was anathema in the church of my childhood. I can’t recall ever having been instructed as to why it was wrong, but I came to the conclusion that it had something to do with substituting mechanical actions for real true belief; that following any formal ritual was a sort of religion-by-rote for those who had not prayed through to a genuine ecstatic experience of the living God. At the very least, conforming to ritual would surely be limiting, confining, Spirit-quenching.

Please understand that I am not discounting the sincerity of the exuberant saints among whom I grew up; many of them did indeed demonstrate faith that would move mountains and abiding joy in the face of great hardship.

For me, though, the anything-goes-as-long-as-you’re-enthusiastic style of church meeting was detrimental, to say the least. I – the preacher’s oldest kid, no less! – was expected to beam with the barely-veiled glory of God’s wonder-working hand on my life at all times. Good Christian girls didn’t let the devil steal their shine!

My choice: deceit (or at best exaggeration) followed by guilt, or honesty resulting in condemnation.

As I grow older and continue to work through many layers of deep-seated depression, I am learning that ritual, at its heart, is neither robotic nor repressive; it is, in fact, a healing balm for my soul, a means of saving grace. It is a great comfort to lean into time-honored practices when I have no strength to forge a new path, to repeat well-worn words when I can’t manage coherent composition, to relax into the kinship of common custom.

 …ritual and symbol are as necessary to human beings as air and water. They mark us as human and give us identity…Rituals bind a community together, and also bind individuals to a community. ~ Kathleen Norris

Tuesday’s Word: mundane

Many of you will be aware of the story of Kara Tippetts, a remarkable woman who shared her journey through breast cancer in the light of faith. Christianity Today  recently featured an article remembering Kara and her ‘mundane faithfulness’ (the title of her blog). In response, a friend of mine wondered, “Is faithfulness ever mundane?”

mundane:  lacking interest or excitement; dull

I get what she was saying. The workaday meaning, the definition that comes up at the top of the list when you Google the word, indicates that mundane is synonymous with boring, tedious, and wearisome. We view the mundane tasks of our days with distaste, either rushing through them first thing in the morning to get them out of the way or putting them off as long as possible so as not to waste the best part of the day on them. To label faithfulness as mundane will suggest to some people that it is lackluster, uneventful, not worthy of the time and effort required to practice it.

But wait. There’s more.

Some other listed synonyms of mundane are unvarying, repetitive, routine. It still doesn’t sound particularly exhilarating, but do you see what I see? These words are uncannily descriptive of faithfulness!

There’s another definition, too – one that is much more closely tied to the Latin origin of the word.

mundane:  of, relating to, or characteristic of the world
(as contrasted with heaven)

In this light, what could faithfulness be except mundane? Here, in the world we live in, the world of which we’re made – this is where we must practice the repetitive acts of prayer and care and intention and devotion which constitute the daily living out of our faith.

Tuesday’s Word: mystery

mystery:  something kept secret or remaining unexplained; something not understood or beyond understanding

 

Baby Girl the Second likes ‘mystery’ stories these days, which leads me to musing about the disparity between the common usage and the true meaning of the word. Of course, the problems presented to the small town backyard detectives whose adventures she follows are never for a minute intended to remain unexplained and invariably prove to be quite understandable to one who reads the clues carefully. No mystery will remain unsolved for more than five pages or a 24-minute television slot, not with Tyrone and Uniqua or Encyclopedia Brown and Sally on the case. In a few years, she’ll discover that Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple are equally reliable in their somewhat lengthier settings.

I have nothing against a good whodunit, although I do wish the genre would be categorically renamed ‘detective’ literature. The problem I see is that we have reduced the – well, mystery of mystery, to the point of excluding any eventuality that remains beyond human understanding. We really believe that if we are observant and resourceful and analytical enough, we can solve any conundrum. When we do run up against something that we absolutely can’t explain, we tend to shrug our shoulders, say “It’s a mystery to me,” and turn and walk away, dismissing anything we can’t define and diagram neatly as not worthy of our attention.

During this Holy Week, this time of remembrance and meditation, I am conscious of both a desperate hunger for and a deep rest in a Presence far beyond my comprehending. God grant me the grace to open myself to the mystery of Christ:  Christ in us, Christ in me, in you, the hope of glory.

 

 

Tuesday’s Word: truth

 truth:  the state of being the case; the property of being in accord with fact or reality

fact:  something that has actual existence; a piece of information presented as having objective reality

 

What is truth?

The question has been under examination of late in a small group of which I am part, and this past week I ventured to comment that truth and facts are not necessarily the same – only to find that I was ill-prepared to articulate to someone of a more analytical bent than myself precisely what I meant.

So here I am, taking another go at it.

Facts are concrete things. They can be tied to a place on the map, or a date on the calendar, or a documented event.

Facts are also fluid, though. They can change over time. They are dependent upon certain conditions. They can be acted upon by outside forces which may alter them.

For example: as a matter of fact, I have long, dark brown hair. Except in certain lighting, where it’s auburn. Except for the streaks that are silver. Except in old photographs of a younger me, where it’s short. And in even older photographs of a much younger me, where it’s blonde.

Truth is incorporeal. It cannot be anchored down in the same way that a fact can. It is eternal – it does not evolve or erode, despite the passage of aeons. It is consistent, regardless of conditions. It remains the same in light and darkness, heat and cold, stillness and storm.

Tuesday’s Word: icon

icon:   a painting of Jesus Christ or another holy figure, typically in a traditional style on wood, venerated and used as an aid to devotion; or

a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something

Icons are a fairly new concept to me. If they were mentioned at all in the anti-liturgical faith tradition in which I was raised, they were cast in a negative light. My working definition of the word prior to this present decade, had I thought about it, might have been “a thing made to represent God – maybe not quite synonymous with ‘idol,’ but dangerously, wickedly close.”

It was one of my favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle, who piqued my interest in  liturgy and ritual and orthodoxy and iconography a few years ago, first through her fiction, most notably An Acceptable Time, and later in her excellent study of icons and idols, Penguins and Golden Calves, in which she says, “An icon is something I can look through and get a wider glimpse of God…saying something that cannot be said in words…It transcends our experience and points us to something larger and greater and more wonderful.”

The understanding of an icon as something that affords me a ‘wider glimpse of God’ is predominant in my awareness now in the early days of Lent.