Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Truth and Transformation

Some etymology that I have been reflecting upon:

First, etymology itself -- from etymos, truth, and logos, word. How beautiful! JRR Tolkien was very interested in etymologies, He was a philologist, and that word Philology means something like "one who loves and studies words."

Now, culture -- root is cultura, stemming from colere, to cultivate. The word is very close in origin to the word for worship, as Josef Pieper points out.

This one is in my mind because of Amy's post at Epiphany Springs on Mother Culture. She raises questions I have often pondered upon but have not come to a conclusion about even with a box of chocolates in the offing. But that "cultivating" aspect of the word makes me think.... cultivating involves growth and this is not the same as just relaxing and sitting back. In fact, it is almost the opposite.

So then as to worship. That one originates from the Anglo Saxon word "worth" or "value" or dignity or price... the corresponding Latin word is ""cultus". Hmm.... that is interesting!

Then, here is a tricky one -- obedience. It is very often misunderstood, because our society is set up as individualistic and obedience is thought of as the compelled behavior of an inferior. But when I was reading the Catholic Catechism I found that the etymology is from "audire" meaning to hear or hearken to. Here is Proverbs 22:17, in the same vein:

Incline thy ear, and hear the words of the wise: and apply thy heart to my knowledge.

In this respect, it can be the highest of human acts. There is something intrinsic to me, in that connection between listening -- hearkening -- and "logos" -- word, or reason. You have to listen in order to hear words. And the obedience bit is where one's will comes in; will implies voluntariness, as Charlotte Mason says:

let him (the child) know what a noble thing it is to be able to make himself do, in a minute, and brightly, the very thing he would rather not do.

And what about Epiphany? The word comes from a Greek one meaning "manifestation". We just celebrated the feast of Epiphany of course.

The Wise Men or Magi who brought gifts to the infant Jesus were the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as "King" and so were the first to "show" or "reveal" Jesus to a wider world as the incarnate Christ. This act of worship by the Magi, which corresponded to Simeon’s blessing that this child Jesus would be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles" (Luke 2:32), was one of the first indications that Jesus came for all people, of all nations, of all races, and that the work of God in the world would not be limited to only a few.
In a story, it is the moment when a truth is revealed and a character reaches a turning point, and you know everything is changed -- he or she can never be the same again.

What does all this have in common? Well, isn't it obvious -- it is all about word origins : ). But there is a bit more to it than that, I believe. Gilbert Meilander wrote about Josef Pieper's main concerns in these words:

Pieper emphasizes the close connection between moral and intellectual virtue. Our minds do not–contrary to many views currently popular–create truth. Rather, they must be conformed to the truth of things given in creation. And such conformity is possible only as the moral virtues become deeply embedded in our character, a slow and halting process. We have, he writes on one occasion, "lost the awareness of the close bond that links the knowing of truth to the condition of purity." That is, in order to know the truth we must become persons of a certain sort. The full transformation of character that we need will, in fact, finally require the virtues of faith, hope, and love. And this transformation will not necessarily–perhaps not often–be experienced by us as easy or painless. Hence the transformation of self that we must–by God’s grace–undergo "perhaps resembles passing through something akin to dying."
Will you believe that I did not find that quote until just now when I was looking for something else? But it ties together those word origins very nicely. I am talking about transformation and realization. It is so easy to stay within one's comfort zone.

I have just finished Auralia's Colors, a very interesting book that I got from the library. It is in the style of Patricia McKillip, with that feeling of intense dreaming that you get from one of her stories, but with a bit of Tolkien and Lewis as well. I came across the book from the author's site by way of Iambic Admonit's review of the Golden Compass movie. It is about a baby found in a monster's footprint. That pulled me in right away.

The author of the book, Jeffrey Overstreet has a quote on his blog --The Truth must dazzle gradually-- from Emily Dickinson's poem:

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant---
Success in Cirrcuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind---

1 comment:

lissla lissar said...

"Intense dreaming". That's a very good description of Patricia McKillip's books.

Obedire- to hear, facing. At least according to some websites. We don't have a decent Latin dictionary. That's very interesting. It's one of those misconstrued words, like dogma, whic are taken to imply unthinking servility. According to Kathleen Norris, in the early church, dogma meant the beliefs agreed upon by believers. Not the popular meaning today, which seems to be rigid creeds forced upon people by the Church.

And in looking through the OED for a definition, I've just found out that 'dogless' means 'without a dog'. That's wonderful.