Thursday, July 23, 2009


Did you ever wonder what the word "amen" signifies? I did, and asked my follower Kent Schnake, who has read the Bible cover to cover more than 20 times. He elucidates:
During my first trip to Japan, I was repeatedly told that hai means "yes." That is true, but during a conversation a Japanese listener will usually say "hai" repeatedly. They often don't mean "yes, I agree" - it's more likely "yes, I hear you." I was frustrated. Why couldn't the Japanese be clearer? Upon reflection, I realized that the same thing can be true in English: Sure. Okay. Got it. These can all mean "yes, I agree," but they are often simply ways of saying "yes, I hear you." We decide which is meant by paying attention to tone of voice, body language, and context. If we want to be unambiguous, it is good to have a word that is less subject to interpretation. That is particularly valuable for a literate people, because words in text are devoid of tone or body language. Muslims have long referred to Jews and Christians as "people of the book." It is a positive statement, indicating that Jews, Christians, and Muslims have all benefited from divine revelations that have been committed to writing and preserved. All have many centuries of literacy as part of their heritage - and all say "Amen." There are variations in pronunciation. Even as an English speaker, I have never been confident whether "ah-men" or "ay-men" is more suitable.
Monotheistic religions have one important practice in common: prayer. Simply put, prayer is conversing with God. When we converse with God, we seek to be as clear both with God and with others who are listening. The person praying may say "amen." "Amen" has been spoken and written in Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, and Latin for centuries. From there it has passed on to many other languages, including English. A common English definition is "so be it." Unambiguous, emphatic agreement. As with many cultural conventions, saying "amen" has lost force in many situations. For a long time I thought it was just a way of saying "I'm done" when a person finished praying. However, particularly in the Pentecostal fellowships that I frequent, "amen" is used during sermons, during prayers, and even as an emotional response to good news. I might say, "My daughter has recovered from pneumonia," and then hear an emotional "amen" as a response. Emphatic, unambiguous, and multilingual. Amen to all that!

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