What do we mean when we say amen? It is often said at the end of a prayer. But it doesn’t mean…the end. It means that we agree. Or rather, that “it is so” or we have heard a bit of truth, or that we have some certainty in the validity of the words spoken or heard. This is quite beautiful if you think about it. The ability to state something so emphatically with one word. It is not reserved for religious purposes, we’ve all heard or exclaimed “amen” when someone says something that we really want to praise, or confirm.
There are many reasons to say “amen” in all sorts of situations. What I like about its use, particularly in the context of prayer or a religious service, is that we often say it together. Even when we don’t quite agree. We say it to confirm that we have heard each other. Heard our thoughts, concerns and ideas. It is a statement of understanding that our voices are important, until they are heard again. In a way it isn’t so much an ending as a beginning – the point at which we have taken in information, and can begin to determine its value and what it means to us; what it requires us to do. It is a symbol of our ability to listen, our ability to respect others’ voices. A way of understanding our communities, and the vast array of options available to unite and celebrate each other.
Right now, we need to say “amen” together. To listen, to consider, to ponder anew. There is much to praise, and much to explore. The ability to do so together, despite our differing views, will serve us well.
I love the autumn. The crisp weather, the sunshine through the changing leaves, the magnificent colours I am privileged to see in the eastern Ontario landscape. It is a time when many of my favourite activities get started and yet we also celebrate the end of summer, harvest and are thankful. As we prepare for Thanksgiving next week, this hymn of praise seemed appropriate. It was suggested to me by two friends who shared that it was sung at their wedding. They both expressed that it had been meaningful before this event, but became even more so after.
This is a song of adoration. The words were originally written by Joachim Neander in German in 1680, and translated into English in 1863 by Catherine Winkworth. I am often struck by how some of these hymns span hundreds of years and can still provide meaning and inspiration to us. My favourite bits are in the second and last verses. Verse two speaks of how God “shelters thee under his wings, yea, so gently sustaineth.” What an image. I can understand why someone would choose this to mark the beginning of a marriage. It is both celebratory and filled with the promise of care.
The final verse has a statement that, I must admit, chokes me up every time I find myself singing it with others.
Let the “amen” sound from God’s people again.
There is something very powerful about voices joining together in an “amen” – something sort of primal. The word is a declaration of affirmation. It comes up in Greek, Hebrew, Arabic and English – with variations in many other languages and is used in all sorts of religious practices. It sort of means we agree. Maybe it’s a bit naïve to think we actually agree on much – and as we look around the world it seems we really, really don’t. But there is something spirit building about being in a space with people and choosing to say “amen” despite our differences. Choosing to look for ways to work together seeking something better; encouraging positive change, acceptance, peace and kindness. Idealistic I know, but when I sing this hymn it reminds me of that possibility on a very basic emotional level.
However you choose to say amen, and with whatever group you choose to do so, I hope this can be a reminder of how important it is to find a community with which to share your celebrations, your adorations and your songs.