Sunday, January 1, 2017

A most beautiful word

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.  - John 1:1-18

I've always been a fan of languages. I enjoyed learning them, even though I've hardly ever used them and have forgotten most of what I knew. In school I took three years of French and two of Spanish. I can remember more French than Spanish, even though I live in a place where Spanish is almost as common as English. I used to visit a friend in Washington DC for a week or two in the summer. She too was a language nut.  One of our games was to listen to people talking foreign languages and try to figure out which language they were speaking. We tried that once in the cafeteria at one of the museums at the Smithsonian only to have the ladies turn around and address us and tell us that they were speaking Lithuanian or something like that. It was embarrassing in a way, but we had a very nice conversation with them while we waited to get our lunches.

A few years ago I got the itch to learn biblical Greek. Right. Learning the alphabet was hard enough, even though I had learned in college when I was pledging a music fraternity and the Greek alphabet was one of the assigned tasks for us to learn. But learning it and actually using it are two very different kettles of fish. I bought several books to help me learn. Several times, one of the first things they taught you after the first few vocabulary lessons was to read was part of the reading for today from the first chapter of John. That was fun.

I must've recited that first verse 100 times to get it in my head that this word meant this,  that word meant that,  and then putting it all together with the correct pronunciation so that it actually sounded like  it was supposed to. I especially remember the first verse, "In the beginning was the Word." It still gives me chills when I hear it because it encompasses so much — from the beginning of time until now. In the beginning was the Word, the word we know to be Jesus Christ. 

In Greek the word "word" is logos (λόγος), and has become one of my favorite words, right up there with wisdom (sophia). For John, it was an important word, one which he used three times just in the first verse alone of his gospel. It makes it very easy word to remember in Greek since we hear it referenced in sermons, meditations, and religious books.  But Jesus has a number of what you might call aliases. He's been called the son of God, light of the world, Lamb of God, the good Shepherd, and now we see him called the Word.

I guess the word logos means a lot to me simply because I love words. Even studying the Greek captivated me, until I got to the tenses, which is been my downfall and languages all along. But just reading that first verse of John and reading it in Koine, the kind of Greek spoken in the world Jesus lived in, has had an impact on me that few other things have. It was like finding an undiscovered country and seeing how beautiful it is.

Granted, that's maybe a little fanciful, but I remember learning to know Jesus as a kid. I fell in love with that too, so learning to love the Word representing Christ was just an extension of a love story that started a number of years ago.

Words are basic things. Our world is made up of things, and those things have names. There are words to describe them. If one says tree, people understand that they are referring to very possibly an outdoor or indoor form of foliage consisting of a trunk, branches, and leaves or needles. Of course, a tree can also be what you hang your coats and hats on in the winter, or the drawing of the relationships between members of a family. One word, three different definitions.

When John uses Word, he was using a metaphor for an eternal truth, the logos that existed from the beginning of time. Now God made the world and since God is one of the faces of the Trinity, then the other two, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, must've been around as well.

Jesus was the Word of God on earth, teaching and preaching and sharing the message that God wanted us to have. Jesus was still the Word, but he was also a very human being, and who took on that humanity so that we might better understand God. Jesus reiterated the messages God had been sending through the centuries and millennia, but this is the Word made flesh, made visible.

I may never learn much more Greek, but logos will stay with me, the word will be with me, in English, in Greek, or even just in the sound of the wind in the trees, the waves lapping on the shore, or maybe just the song of the word. I think I'll look for new ways to see the Word in the world this week. It's a good way to start off the new year I think.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, December 31, 2016.

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