Depends on meaning

When we were young, no one in our house was allowed to swear. Except Dad, of course. But his oaths were limited to “Damn” and “Hell.”

We thought these words very daring and wondered if they were okay with God.

On the other hand, Dad could yell at us, “I’ll thrash ye tae an inch o yer life!” and we took no notice because he said it often and never did it.

As children, we were trained to replace bad language with good, so that swearing adjectives were predominately “jolly” and “blessed.” “That jolly cat has pooed under my bed again.” “The blessed fire has gone out because the wood’s wet.”

Those words took on weight with use and became a part of everything that caused frustration. Blessed cut finger. Blessed power cuts. As you can imagine, when I became a

Catholic, there was a small hiccup from the past over “Blessed be God forever.”

When I reflect on the language that is my heritage, I realise that certain words and phrases have formed deep tracks through use, with the result they’ve become invisible, or their intended meaning has changed.

As a new Catholic convert, the beauty of the Mass enthralled me. It was as fresh as a field of fragrant flowers. Phrases were eagerly internalised and then gradually, they became ordinary and were taken for granted.

Familiarity may not breed contempt but it can produce complacency. In the middle of prayers, I would find myself wondering what kind of vinegar I’d use to pickle some onions, or whether I’d forgotten to put a stamp on a letter I’d posted.

I’m sure I’m not the only person guilty of such wanderings.

So how do we cultivate an awareness that holds the living freshness of the liturgy?

Something that works for me, is to hear the liturgy as lectio divina. This is not about focussing on every word, but about being open to all of it. Usually, the meaning I need falls into an inner space where it feeds the heart.

How does it work? I don’t know. The Holy Spirit doesn’t reveal secrets, but work it does. Well-worn words come up fresh and new.

Lord, you are holy indeed, the fount of all holiness. This has passed my ears hundreds of times, but today I’m filled with a fountain of water sparkling with light, and it feels very much like love. Yes, yes, I needed that. Lately I’ve been very dry.

The Lord be with you. There is a rush of knowing. Of course, he’s with us. Closer than close! Dearer than dear! He is the light glowing in everyone around me. He connects us all.

Then comes the Lord’s Prayer, so dense that meaning can be lost. Our Father who art in heaven. Heaven? Jesus told us the kingdom of heaven is within. Do I need to go any further than that? Something inside me trembles with awe.

When I pray the liturgy this way, there is always something new.

  • Joy Cowley is a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and retreat facilitator.
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