Religion Column: What is in a word?

Published 7:00 am Saturday, December 30, 2017

By Father Jonathan J. Filkins

very wise man once said, “The greatest challenge, when dealing with people, is communication.” Of course, there are many types of communication, but it all boils down to only two: verbal and non- verbal.

The former is subject to several interpretations, such as when our arms are folded across our chests. To the viewer, is this an indication of anger, comfortability, or a neutral message? If the legs are crossed, is this an indication of a closed mind, or position? It all depends on the situation and the interpreter. Get it wrong, and there could be relationship difficulties.

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An even greater impediment, to effective communication among ourselves, is the spoken and written word. Consider the overworked word “love.” Again, the question has to be asked, “what is meant by this word?” as we say it so frequently. As the word “awesome,” which is now so in vogue, then what would be the superlative, if what we were referring to is even greater, in true stature. Perhaps we should consider, “super-duper awesome.”

This all sounds a bit silly, but the overuse of these edifying words, and others in our culture, not only muddies the definitions, but also dilutes the effective power of the language itself. Few parents, after several years of inquiring after the state of their children’s well-being, are enamored at the perfunctory reply of “fine,” or “ok.” It is really a non-answer and there has been no communication.

Not remarkably, it happens all too frequently in the workplace. A clerk says only what they believe the customer wants to hear. A staff member waxes poetic in keeping their boss at bay; proffering only platitudes and “feel-goods;” while expending much effort to undermine the organization, with an entirely different set of words and actions.

Much of the anger and angst in our world is as a direct result of the wrong words, or using those which have lost their real meaning. Saying you have loved this, or have loved that, particularly when referring to an object, is hardly to be equated to the same love we have for our parents, mates, or friends. 

It is even more crucial of our communication, with God, in our understanding of what He seeks from us and for us. For example, when we use the word love, as in, “I love you God,” what is this love. Is this the same love that we refer to a fine meal, someone’s clothing, or a paint color? Let us pray not.

Yet all of the language, nee words, that we use with our communication with God, should give us pause. By His son Jesus Christ, being upon this earth, we have many Words which were given to us. Note the capital, “W” in the spelling, for it denotes a special level of importance for our Christian lives.

The Word of God is often communicated poorly. It is not God’s fault, as there is no fault to find in Him. It is our own faults, as we may interpret His Words to our own situation and greedy needs. A wag once said that, this is “Cafeteria Christianity,” where the possible penitent chooses this expectation from God, while rejecting the unpleasant others. Something akin to taking a big helping of the mashed potatoes, but passing on the Brussels sprouts, rather than eat the entire banquet, given to us by a most generous host. 

God clearly tells us what he wants for us, and from us, in His Words to us. His Son is the ‘Logos,” the Word of God made in the flesh. Is he to be loved, or is He awesome? Perhaps the true definition lays in the depths of our hearts.