Friday, December 31, 2010

Bombadil Day

I was with a friend and her family this week, and her oldest daughter, age 4, was sharing her crayons with me, and her new coloring book.  Being of a Christmas theme, the book was filled with candy canes and elfs and Santa Claus.  We noted together that you can tell an elf by his pointed ears.  Fairies also have pointed ears.  “What kind of person is Santa?” I asked.  But since she could not see his ears beneath his hat and whiskers, she said quite confidently that she didn’t know. 

This brought to mind a character I am rather more fond of, Tolkien’s Tom Bombadil.  My young artist-friend was directing my coloring, and though she wouldn’t let me fill in Santa’s suit as bright blue, she did volunteer the suggestion of yellow boots, which made me smile.

So I was thinking…  As long as parents are lying to their children, why don’t we lie about the jolly Tom Bombadil instead?  He’s quite similar to Santa, and maybe even better.  Of course, I don’t believe in lying, not even to my children, so I wouldn’t lie.  But I want a holiday to be jolly, to stomp around in boots and talk in rhymes and tell stories and wear bright colors and throw hats in the air and then catch them again.  To have good food and candlelight and to collect flowers or dry leaves or other nature-things.  It doesn’t have to be Christmastime.  We can find a dull season of the year and spice it up with Bombadil Day. 

Ring a dong dillo!

To God be all glory.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Annual Longbourn Tradition of Etymologies of Christmas Words

Pine – from the Latin pinus = tree sap
1. Evergreens with needles and cones

or from the Greek poine = payment or punishment
2. Suffer intense longing or yearning
3. To wither through longing or grief

Besides the classical metaphor using the evergreen as an image for eternal life, I think of the richness behind pine in the season of advent, when we are told several of the characters in the nativity story (particularly in Luke’s account) were waiting expectantly for the coming of Immanuel.

Clove – from the Latin clou = nail
1. An East Indian evergreen tree
2. Spice made from dried flower buds of that tree
3. Small section of separable bulb, as garlic
4. Past tense of cleave, as in to split
5. Past tense of cleave, as in to cling

The tree buds are close together, as yet unfurled, when harvested and dried to make the spice, which tends to be ground, separated into tiny pieces to flavor our holiday feasts.  It reminds me of the Body of Christ, which is the people of God gathered together in one, but bought by the brokenness of Christ’s physical body.  Also, for this reason a man shall cleave from his mother and father and cleave to his wife.  And finally, the Israelites were not allowed to eat animals whose hooves were not cloven (which means split).  It is also good to know the third definition when reading recipes; making a soup with a whole bulb of garlic rather than a whole clove is quite a difference.

Nutmeg – from Latin nuce muscata = musky nut
1. Evergreen from the East Indies
2. The hard, aromatic seed of the tree
3. Spice made from the ground seed of the tree

Mace – from Greek makir = the Indian spice
1. spice made from the covering of the kernel of a nutmeg

or from the Latin mateola = rod, club
2. heavy medieval war club with spiked head used to crush armor
3. a ceremonial staff borne as a symbol of authority of a legislative body

Though the etymologies are completely different, the spice called mace shares a name with the rod or club.  And the Messiah was prophesied to be a ruler, represented by a rod, whose government would be just and bring peace.

Cinnamon – from the Hebrew quinnamown = name for the tree
1. Tree from tropical Asia with fragrant bark
2. A spice made from grinding the tree’s bark

So many of these spices are made from crushing the coverings, either of the living tree or of the seed.  When Jesus was crushed, it brought us life.  He, the seed of Eve and of Abraham and of David, is our covering, our atonement for sin, and when God looks at His people He sees the fragrant righteousness of Christ. 

Eggnog – from egg a derivative of the Indo-European root awi- = bird, and nog- (in the sense of ale) origin unknown
1. Drink consisting of milk and beaten eggs, often mixed with rum, brandy, or wine

I absolutely love finding a word whose origin we still cannot determine.

Ale – from Indo-European root alu- = related to sorcery, magic, possession, and intoxication
1. Fermented alcoholic drink made from hops and malt, and heavier than beer

Given the Bible’s take on sorcery and on intoxication, I found this a fascinating root for a drink almost the equivalent of beer.  (The root is also found, for example, in the word hallucination.)

Gander – from Indo-European root ghans- = goose
1. Male goose
2. Half-wit, simpleton

Partridge – from Indo-European root perd- = to fart (from the sound made when a partridge is flushed…  see video)
1. Old-world plump game bird, similar to grouse or bob-white

That bird sitting atop the pear tree, his name has an interesting root.  And there’s just no good way to explain…

Twelve – from Indo-European roots twa- = two, and leikw- = leave or lend (“left over from ten”)
1. The number represented by 12 or Roman  numerals XII

For a mathematical system somewhat based on 12, isn’t it interesting that the word is just an earlier and, compared to the counting ten-based system reflected in the teens and further numbers, more mathematical word for ten and two?  I don’t know how you learned math, but I definitely learned about “borrowing” from the tens’ column in subtraction. 

All definitions, etymologies, and roots summarized from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, New College Edition © 1976 unless otherwise linked. 

To God be all glory.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Wedding Round Table

I made some new friends this weekend at a wedding.  We sat down at a round table for the rehearsal dinner and had a grand old time.  When I told them I like to read and write, one of them asked me what I write.  You all read my blog; what do I write?  “Do you write about life?” he asked.  Ummm… 

Well, I do write about life, a little bit, but only as a frame for saying something else.  I wish I could do narrative but I’m just not patient enough to tell the details.  And that eliminates comedy, too.  So I write essays and devotionals, little windows into the philosophical ponderings that hit me while I’m brushing my teeth.  Too bad I wasn’t so eloquent with my new friends.  I ended up stammering something about philosophy (one of the top “categories” on my blog). 

And then a young man to my left, wearing a plaid button-up shirt and smart-looking glasses asked me what kind of philosophy I write about.  I got the impression that I was shrinking while his height soared until in my mind he was more like the clock-tower of a university than a groomsman at my friend’s wedding.  I’ve never taken a smidgen of philosophy in school.  I haven’t read Plato or Aristotle or Bacon, let alone anyone modern.  I went to Focus on the Family’s Truth Project, a worldview video series, and I listen to Ravi Zacharias sometimes.  What do you mean, “what kind of philosophy?” 

So I think my writing may be more philosophical than philosophy proper.  It’s abstract.  I can pour out a bit of logical reasoning in a snap.  And imaginative speculation, that I can do. 

And then I tried to think of an example.  I suppose God wanted me to forget the topic of ecclesiology temporarily, though that’s an interesting and frequent subject on my blog.  Lately I’ve been writing more about little things about life.  My philosophy has always tended to the social and spiritual sides.  On the spot, I searched my memory for one of the most popular posts on this blog.  And the first one I thought of was Falling in Respect. 

To summarize, I springboarded off the book title, Love and Respect, which book suggests that respect is to men what love is to women, in a marriage.  And I thought, long ago, why don’t we make stories about “falling in respect” since we have so many stories about “falling in love.”  At a wedding, where both the Bride and Groom have pursued a sober and intentional course in their relationship while they’re both mythology-loving romantics, comparing love and respect and their portrayal in Disney movies versus Grimm’s Fairy Tales was the perfect topic of conversation. 

Our table also enjoyed the pleasant mixture of newly married sweethearts and single but idealistic men and women to balance the perspectives (sort of; nothing can beat the experience of an elder). 

Highlights of the conversation:
Levels of love, beginning with a merely physical, chemical attraction.
The level of love justifying marriage can barely be compared to the level of love reached after half a century of marriage.
Did Sleeping Beauty fall in love, or did she waken to a prince who’d slain dragons and persevered and sacrificed and risked his way into the castle to save her? 
What grade does Disney’s Beauty and the Beast get for the hero and heroine falling in love the “right” way? 
Which usually comes first? Love or respect? 
Can respect be as unconditional as love?
How much is either love or respect a choice?
Can you be surprised in respect like you can be in love?

To God be all glory.