I like words.
If you think about it, they’re pretty amazing things.
I remember as a child being amazed at my father’s vast vocabulary. He knew a lot of words. I forget what the exact challenge was, but I was scouring the dictionary for a word he didn’t know. (Aside: I realized as I wrote those words that kids today don’t have that dictionary-searching experience. If they need to look up a word, they don’t pull out an enormous heavy book; they simply type the word into a search bar, or click on the word, and ~ poof! ~ there’s the definition.)
Anyway, I was searching the dictionary and found a word that I was sure he wouldn’t know: Quisling. He not only knew the word, he knew the origins. For the record, a quisling is a traitor who collaborates with an enemy occupying force for personal gain. Vidkun Quisling did just that in Norway in WWII.
That kind of word is called an eponym, a word that was a person’s name. In looking up the definition of eponym, I found that the word boycott is an eponym. Charles Boycott, an English landowner in Ireland back in 1880 treated his tenants so badly that they decided just to ignore him.
Last Sunday, I was preparing for a class at church. For a year or more I’ve been attending an Episcopal church, but honestly, I still don’t know what I’m doing. All this standing, kneeling, sitting, genuflecting, making-the-sign-of-the-cross stuff gets confusing. I’m pretty sure that God doesn’t entirely care if I forget to genuflect before I enter the pew. Still, I’d like to understand the whys and try to be respectful. So the rector invited me to a book study on Walk In Love: Episcopal Beliefs & Practices (by Scott Gunn and Melody Wilson Shobe). The topic last week was the Eucharist.
It turns out that the prayer book has six different terms for this thing that we do in church. “The Holy Eucharist is called the Lord’s Supper, and Holy Communion; it is also known as the Divine Liturgy, the Mass, and the Great Offering.”
I love when other languages have words for which we have no English equivalent. For example, there’s Danish hygge (warm, fuzzy, sitting-by-the-fire feeling), German schadenfreude (getting pleasure from someone’s misfortune), and Hawaiian pana po’o (scratching your head when you can’t find something). I particularly liked discovering this Halloween-y word, vybafnout, Czech for jumping out and saying “Boo!”.
Back to Eucharist, though, I can’t help but wonder if we don’t have a human equivalent of what God intended in this sacrament. We don’t have one word for it. We don’t have even one way of doing it.
I’ve taking communion with matzo crackers and little individual cups of grape juice, hunks of leavened bread ripped from a whole loaf and dunked in juice, little round wafers dipped in real wine, and even Girl Scout cookies with a little milk. You may think that last one sacrilegious, but I’d go back to God looking at our hearts.
In the class someone asked about the elements becoming the body and blood of Christ. “Is it magic?” she asked.
“It’s mystery,” I blurted out, and Father went with that, expounding on sacramental mystery.
In preparing for class, I followed rabbit trails, as I am wont to do. I came across the word aumbry and looked it up (not in a dictionary, but in the search bar). An aumbry is a recessed cupboard in a church where sacred vessels and vestments are stored.
From there I found pyx, a small round container where the consecrated host can be stored.
And then I came across monstrance. Such a Halloween-y word with such a non-Halloween-y meaning. No monsters, but instead a vessel in which the consecrated host is displayed.
Words — they’re pretty amazing, right?
But I also don’t like when people’s words don’t match their lives (my own included).
I recently came across a quote from Thomas Fuller that I keep thinking about: “How easy is pen and paper piety for one to write religiously! I will not say it costeth nothing, but it is far cheaper to work one’s head than one’s heart to goodness.”
Surely somewhere there is a word for just that.