Marvin Repinski: Words may get to the heart of a person

Published 4:39 pm Friday, January 14, 2022

“(Pray) also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.”  (Ephesians 6:19)

Are there religious phrases that bother you? Are there words that are associated with religious life that seem hackneyed, odd or go against the grain?

Words are employed to communicate. One set of them that has bothered some people is found in the traditional service of Holy Communion. I have had more than one person question the statement: “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness.”

Now that is some strong language. Set that in a “my” culture, or in the midst of a society where many “with-it” people are tied into some form of the human potential movements and it sounds counterproductive.

People have even asked why we don’t update language to conform to our real understanding. “What is that understanding?” I like to ask. 

Most people, recognize that life is a mixture of good and evil. So we admit that our best motives are shadowed by impulses that we could well do without. We are a little like a rose garden; beautiful flowers and thorns combined.

It is a part of our wisdom to see our lives in a broad perspective. We do fail, we do fall short of our ideals and there are behaviors that merit someone calling us a heel. And yet we are people made for high purposes. The Bible suggests that we are “made in the image of God.” Side-by-side are two views; we are not worthy and yet we are altogether worthy. Christian faith announces that the grace of God prompts us to say both — and to do it all in one breath.

Someone said they felt like a gold-capped tooth that’s decaying from within. That may give us a door into an understanding of human nature. Great literature is so often worth preserving because of its ability to sense this dual tension in our characters. We are a combination of the small, offensive and selfish residing side-by-side with what is lofty, beautiful and large.

Again, about the complex multi-personal sense that may shadow us, is pictured in the New Testament. The writer was, it seems, having a scum day!  “We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.  (1 Corinthians 4:13)

Barry L. Johnson has written of his growing awareness of his understanding of God and his life: “My search was accented during my junior year at Wheaton College, when the short story professor wrote a title on the board and instructed us to write a story to fit it.  The title was ‘Sometimes There’s a Hole in the Ceiling.” After much effort, many crumpled pages, and unsolicited coaching from my house brothers, I whipped up a story about a ghetto family that received unexpected help from an unexpected source. The story closed with “Sometimes there’s a hole in the ceiling; it was made for the hand of God.” When the paper came back with an A minus, the whole house celebrated the victory.

Mr. Johnson then states in reflecting back on that experience. “The hole in the ceiling has grown … I am aware that the presence of God is limited only by our perception.”  Let us nurture a kind of openness that might even make sense of the difficult words and sentences.

Our words of honesty not only affect the people that receive them, but a pleasantry may crash over in an action of making things right.

A reflection by Terry Helwig of Louisville, Kentucky.

“I left the wallpaper store trying to decide if the bathroom really needed to be wallpapered.  The paper cost more than I’d thought.  I could not make up my mind.

On my way to the car, I remembered I needed to get two boxes of plastic sheets for my files.  Some people cannot resist candy shops; I cannot resist the lure of an office supply store.

When the clerk rang up the bill, I thought it sounded low, but I paid what he asked and took my bag to the car.  There I compared my purchases with the cash register receipt.  Just as I suspected:  The clerk had only rung up one box of plastic sheets.

At home, a nagging feeling pulled at me.  I knew I would have to make amends.  The store had already closed.   But the next morning I handed my receipt to the clerk.  “Hi.  I came in yesterday and bought two boxes of your plastic sheets for ringed binders.  You only charged me for one box.”

“Well, I guess you owe us eleven dollars,” he said in a surprised tone.”  “Thank you for coming back,”

I paid the eleven dollars and went outside feeling much happier.  I was so happy, in fact, that I decided to go next door and buy that wallpaper for the bathroom.  When I told the woman what I wanted, she said, “Well, today must be your lucky day!  We just reduced that paper this morning.  It’s thirty percent off!”