Tuesday, October 06, 2015

A Note From Class: Hallowed

Dear Friends,

Last week we began our class saying the Lord's Prayer, also called the "Our Father" and, in Latin, the Pater Noster /PAY-ter NAHS-ter/. (Please note that I list various names and the Latin name because you do sometimes run into them, and it is helpful to know that they all refer to the same thing.)

We discovered that there are words in the Lord's Prayer that need defining. And this makes sense because anytime you step into a new or special community, and the church is certainly that, you'll run into new clusters of words. In school, for example, when you start learning a new subject, you will see that there are always new words to learn.

A friend of mine, nervous because he was a new teacher, once asked me if he thought his students were learning anything. I asked him, "Are their vocabularies changing?" New words give us better tools for understanding and talking about our ideas. That is why new ideas and new words usually go together.

Now that I think about it, though, there is a more common issue that arises concerning new words. Sometimes new words are old words. What I mean is that we have learned a word--perhaps we heard someone use it, or we read it somewhere--but it is an empty container for us: we don't actually know what the word really means.

The twentieth century author George Orwell had a few strong things to say about this sort of thing, which we are all guilty of. He said it is "ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish" and that a sloppy understanding and use of words "makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts." Or, like a good cook might say, good ingredients make for good food; bad ingredients, not so much.

It is the work of a lifetime to pay attention to words. It is like exploring a vast, underground cave. Sometimes you wriggle through a hole and come out into awe and beauty. Other times, things can be boring or unpleasant, or even dark and scary.

So the word before us is the word hallowed as in "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name."

The first use of hallowed as we know it occurs before the twelfth century. Before that, going back into Old English and other Germanic languages, we find words like halgian, heiligen, and halagon, to make holy, to honor, to set aside as special or for a special purpose. Behind those words are Greek and Hebrew words: the Hebrew word is quodesh /koe-DESH/ and the Greek word is hagios /AH-yee-ohs/. These words refer to generally the same idea, the idea of separateness. Something or someone is separated out, made special, and set apart for some role or task.

In Irish legend, the hero Tuatha de Danaan possessed four treasures which were called hallowed or holy. These treasures were the Spear of Lugh, the Stone of Fal, the Sword of light, and the Dagda's Cauldron. They were set apart as special.

In the Harry Potter world, three objects, the Cloak of Invisibility, the Resurrection Stone, and the Elder Wand are called hallowed because they are objects that are very special and set apart in that world.

All Hallows Eve, from which we get Halloween, uses the word hallow, because it has to do with the saints, or those who are set apart as special examples to us of what it can look like to live a life in pursuit of and saturated with God.

So when we pray the Lord's Prayer, we are asking God to do something--to hallow his name. That means we are asking him, by his power working in the world, to set apart and make special his name, that is his reputation and authority. We ask God to make his name respected and honored in our world, just as it is in heaven. This is one of three things we ask God to do right in the first part of the prayer in a sequence that brings together God's heaven and our everyday earth.

Remember, we are asking God to do it. This is not something we can do. It is a request, such as one might make to a king or to an important figure or, more normally, to a parent.

And how does he do it? By putting his name in the throats of men and women from all nations who together will hallow it. This includes we who are praying this prayer. So let's be careful that as we pray for God to hallow his name, we are hallowing it as well in our hearts and in our lives.