A few random oddities of language, as they relate to our religious impulses, in no particular order:

In the Hungarian language (I think), there is a neuter gender reserved for references to God alone. And in Hebrew, one of the names for God (El Shaddai) means … wait for it ... “the many-breasted one.” Maybe God isn’t an old, white man sitting on a cloud somewhere?

In at least one Asian language, to shame someone literally means “to rip off a person’s face.” Read your Bible sometime with an eye directly on the concepts of shame and honor. “He who honors me, I will honor” (1 Samuel 2:30).

The word “Lord” comes from an Old English term that means “keeper of bread” and refers to an ancient Germanic tradition of a tribal leader providing food for everyone else.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:7). Here is the same in the French: “Heureux les débonnaires, car ils hériteront la terre!” We get our word debonair, of course, from that similar French word. Meek = debonair? Like Duke Ellington, the gallant sage and spokesman of jazz, who said “my music is how I pray”? Or Gregory Peck, who brought Atticus Finch to life on the big screen?

In the Hebrew Bible’s biggest and best comedy (Jonah), the prophet flees “from the presence of the Lord,” because he doesn’t want to do what God wants him to do. Except, here’s how the story literally describes it: “Jonah fled from the face of the Lord.” Where do you see God? What do you see?

Jesus once described prayer as like a woman demanding justice from a corrupt judge (Luke 18:1-8). “I will give this woman what she wants, so she will stop pestering me,” most translations of verse 5 read. But the literal Greek can mean something like this: “I will do right by her, before she walks up and slaps me across the kisser.” So for Jesus, praying to God can be the spiritual equivalent of a woman threatening to physically assault someone who withholds justice from her. Hmmm?

The Rev. Eugene Stockstill is pastor of Ebenezer United Methodist Church and Myrtle United Methodist Church in Union County.

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