I was reading a newsletter I periodically receive from an organization called Contemplative Outreach. While perusing the newsletter, there was a thought-provoking article on the profundity of the word Amen. The article begins:
If you asked me for one piece of advice about contemplation, I would say to take to heart the meaning of one word: amen. If you asked me how you should relate to God, how you might pray, I would whisper, “Amen.” If I practice only one simple thing at the end of my own life, I hope it will be amen.
As the article points out, amen literally means, “so be it” or “let it be.” It is a way of releasing that prayer “into God with a radical trust that nothing more needs to be said.” In any given situation in our life, it is a way of expressing surrender to God, “Not as I will, but as you will.”
It was not only a needed reminder for me personally, but a meaning that I think needs to be reclaimed by many people of faith. Consider the ways in which we utilize that simple word, Amen, and the meanings inferred from our usage:
- At dinnertime, it has come to mean, “Time to eat.”
- Concluding a prayer, it often means, “I am finished talking to God now.”
- A friend of mine once described Amen as hanging up the phone – conversation over – instead of simply being a pause until we pick up the conversation with God later in the day.
- If you grew up in the Baptist tradition, Amen is often a way of expressing agreement with what has been said, often loudly and with enthusiasm – AMEN! The louder the Amen, the more the person agreed! Can I get an AMEN?
- In other religious circles, it has just become another religious expression, spiritual sounding but devoid of any real meaning.
Notice how none of these common uses comes anywhere close to expressing, “So be it.” Far from being just a word tacked on to the end of a prayer, Amen can be a prayer all by itself – a single word to express what is in the heart, while at the same time deferring our plans to God’s plan. Since reading that article I have found myself simply whispering Amen several times throughout the day. I am learning that when there is so much I want to say to God, sometimes Amen is all that needs to be said.