05
Aug
10

What’s in a word?

Words are units of language from which sentences are made… tools that we humans use to communicate thoughts and emotions. They function in a strange way as symbols of meaning and are not static. Their meanings have no particular permanence beyond their continued usefulness. When we hear such words as forsooth, meet, wist, we think them quaint and find little meaning outside of theater usage. But in their day, forsooth meant in truth or indeed; meet meant fitting or proper and wist meant to know. Today we have words that even a few decades ago would not have been understood. How about infomercial, cyberspace, blog, cisgender, meme, remix, podcast? Words convey the ideas and rhythms of our culture.

BTW…the spell checker on this blog site does not recognize the word cisgender, but I didn’t either until a few days ago. And just to add a note of color to all of this: BTW could have been an acronym for British Telecom Wholesale, or Behind the Wheel (driver’s ed.) prior to the popularization of the internet.

Words come and go, just as we and our bright new ideas come and go (wax and wane). My mother used to say that there was nothing new under the sun. She could say that because Ecclesiastes said it first in chapter 1, verse 9. That was eons ago, but some people still say it. Must be something to it…

I am sorry and I regret, are words expressing sentiments that I am currently turning over in my mind. What is meant by the use of these words? What do people mean when they say to another, “I regret”? Do they mean they are sorry? I don’t think they necessarily do, but those words can carry that meaning (sorrow-repentance) if the recipient understands them in that way. But what if they don’t? I think it may be cultural—some cultures being more reserved than others—more private. But even in such cultures we do not teach our children to say “I regret hitting you over the head, Tommy.” We ask them to say “I am sorry I hit you over the head.” We teach that and the kids learn to say it whether or not sorrow exists as repentance. Those children forced to offer that I’m sorry when they are not, or do not understand the value of the transaction, often grow up hoping never to have to say it because of the humiliation revisited. And so we have a culture that claims, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” But I say being sorry for causing pain, discomfort, distress, etc. to a human or animal can only deeply be expressed with the words that most clearly express sorrow. Of course, if one feels only mild sorrow, then regret is the appropriate word.

Definition of regret from my Mac dictionary:

regret |riˈgret|
verb ( -gretted , -gretting ) [ trans. ]
feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, esp. a loss or missed opportunity) : she immediately regretted her words | [with clause ] I regretted that he did not see you.
• used in polite formulas to express apology for or sadness over something unfortunate or unpleasant : any inconvenience to readers is regretted | [with clause ] we regret that no tickets may be exchanged.
• archaic feel sorrow for the loss or absence of (something pleasant) : my home, when shall I cease to regret you!
noun
a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done : she expressed her regret at Virginia’s death | he had to decline, to his regret.
• (often regrets) an instance or cause of such a feeling : she had few regrets in leaving the house.
• (often one’s regrets) used in polite formulas to express apology for or sadness at an occurrence or an inability to accept an invitation : please give your grandmother my regrets.
ORIGIN late Middle English : from Old French regreter ‘bewail (the dead),’ perhaps from the Germanic base of greet 2 .

I have been one who preferred the I regret option and really believed I was getting down to it. My cancer experience, followed by the 3 years of gut-wrenching pain I encountered in returning to the church has transformed me from I regret… to… I am sorry, please forgive me. And the reason for this is not my doing. God has seen fit to allow suffering to seep into my bones for reasons of God’s own. I’ve been Jonah and I’ve been Job, and to my chagrin, I still don’t seem to rest in the rainbow for any length of time. I get many opportunities to revisit the whale again and again with a Job gig not far behind. The only thing I can say about this is that experiencing deep hurt…holding it without great effort to conceal or discharge…I have come (unwittingly) into an expanded universe, so to speak. I cannot simply regret hitting Tommy over the head if his head is bleeding. And if he is rushed to the emergency room, I am truly sorry…deeply sorry for doing to another what I would not want done to me.

I am sorry for the pain and stress I/we have caused you. These words, so difficult for some to say to us would be so much honey on the wound that keeps opening up as  financial circumstances continue to tie us to the past, leaving marks of desperation. We can forgive, and we do, but it is a 70×7 situation. I do so wish it could all be behind us and we could start living the simple life we set out for 3 years ago.

From today’s Richard Rohr Meditation ( Center for Action and Contemplation), I see I have a very long way to go:

Our ultimate goal is to be able to think and behave like Jesus.  This is a journey toward great love, which invariably becomes a journey of great suffering.  This journey leads us to a divine love where we don’t just love those who love us.  We learn to participate in a larger love—where we experience Someone Else loving through us, in us, and for us.  If we remain autonomous, independent, self-sufficient, we cannot participate in this larger love.

Christian spirituality is a mystery of participation.  Thus the saints and mystics speak so much of surrender, abandonment, and even “falling” into God.

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2 Responses to “What’s in a word?”


  1. 1 Anne
    August 5, 2010 at 10:38 am

    And, because you are a dear friend, I feel deep sorrow for this ongoing pain you and BD have and continue to experience

    • 2 Naomi
      August 5, 2010 at 10:49 am

      Hmmmm, have thought many times of hopping on a plane to hide out in your guest room! But I’d have to come back, so no hopping.


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