Monday, February 24, 2014

Terms of Endearment

Bubeleh is a Yiddish word, used as a term of endearment in the Jewish community to address someone precious.  It means "little grandma," but translates more generally as "sweetheart" or "darling."  Adults use it with children and with each other, with elders, and close friends.  My mother called me that, or it's diminutive, buhbie, throughout my childhood.  In fact, even at the age of 42, I'm still her baby, and she still calls me buhbie.  But even if you're not Jewish, I bet you've experienced something similar.  Our proper names are undoubtedly precious, but we often manifest an increasing degree of intimacy when we move beyond the names people use at work and on government documents, and adopt a pet name, a nickname or other term of endearment for those we love.  After all, doesn't it seem a bit stilted when you see couples address each other formally as "Joseph" or "Mary," instead of as "sweetheart" and "honey?"

In this morning's Daily Office reading from the First Letter of John (1 John 3:18-4:6), the author addresses the community as "little children" and "beloved."  At first blush, the language may sound a bit infantilizing or condescending to our modern ears, but actually, it's rather wonderful.  The author is not necessarily expressing a hierarchical relationship between himself and his audience, but rather reminding them that he and they are all children of God, dependent upon and loved by God.  It is a parental, fatherly image of God, to be sure, but certainly loving.  To address the community as "little children" and "beloved" is an expression of kinship with God and with each other.  "We are of God," the author says, and that means that we belong to each other.  We are the Body of Christ.  And that belonging is not just a philosophical thing, but also a relationship that is manifest and articulated in ways of living.  "Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth."  Words are cheap, but actions provide the evidence that we love each other as God loves us.  If we look for the core message of the 1 John reading, we find: "And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he had commanded us."

Next week is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, when we return to the basics of our Christian faith, life, and witness.  Ashes are imposed on our foreheads as a reminder of our common humanity and mortality.  Ashes also serve as a deeper theological reminder that Jesus Christ opened up for us the possibility of a world free from sin, hatred, and oppression.  This simple act of humility encourages us to reflect on our relationships with other human beings, both those we love and those with whom we feel no kinship.  For those looking to assume a penitential discipline for Lent, one useful practice might be to mentally precede statements we make to others with the word, "BELOVED," as the author of 1 John has done, and as God does when he speaks of Jesus.  In next Sunday's Gospel reading, for example, God declares to the disciples observing Our Lord's Transfiguration, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!"  Listening to him means paying that belovedness received from God forward to all our brothers and sisters.  Encountering people as BELOVED instead of strangers, enemies, or nonentities might make a huge difference in the way we shape the dynamics of our work, life, and community. 

Accept my deepest prayers, beloved, that we may observe a holy, transfiguring Lent.

Ethan +

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