Mind Matters

by Rev. Robert H. Tucker

Number 236
July 19, 1999
(Reprint of the Mind Matters of March 3, 1997)


What Language Shall I Borrow?

At times, I stand amazed at the casual ease with which people speak the word, 'God,' and I increasingly find the word struggling to be a part of my normal conversation.

For a religious professional--for whom the word God is one's stock in trade--this is a mighty uncomfortable place to be.

How audacious to so casually speak the word which points to, and addresses, the One who--in a way I don't understand but do believe--encompasses the whole of creation. How does one's tongue wrap itself around the billions of burning suns in unbelievably and uncomprehendibly distant space and the absolutely amazing intricate process of cells turning food into energy? Or, how does one contemplate the awesomeness of the single magnesium atom tucked away in chlorophyll turning sunlight into organic life? (In fact, the periodic table-listing the elements that make up the organic and the inorganic-is fiercely awesome.) All this confounds my intelligence and my imagination. Thus, for me to glibly speak of the author of all that (puzzled as I am as to what authorship means) amazes me.

The ancient Hebrews used the Tetragrammon YHWH for the Divine. We think that YHWH is pronounced Yahweh. Perhaps. But so holy was the name that in reading the text the word was never vocalized. Whenever the word appeared, Adonai (or Lord) was used in its place. Similarly, the Muslim mystic Jala-ud-din Rumi (1207-1273) wrote: "His name will flee, the while thou moldest thy lips for speech." American theologian Joseph Sittler, when asked how he would counsel the church if asked how to go about reforming itself or being reformed, answered, "Watch your language!" Out of simple awe I follow the markings left by all those seeking a language to speak of that Divine Spirit which both hovers over the waters of creation and our creaturely verbal re-creations. That Jesus could use such a familial term as Father both amazes and encourages me.

"What language shall I borrow " wrote the hymnist in "O Sacred Head Now Wounded." Decades at work as a minister, and I'm still seeking that language.


--Robert H. Tucker
19 July1999

© Robert H. Tucker, 1999.
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