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Thursday, January 17 2002

Bon mots

What's the good word? We've been considering words this week, especially "words" in the sense of whole thoughts expressed or conjured by "power words" or dynamic thought forms; logismoi in the Greek, as taught by the elder/monk Abbot Maximos, including phrases and propositions.

I've been given to believe that in decadent pre-Revolution France, one of the favorite games at the royal court and parties was seeing who could come up with the most clever and amusing sayings. The more concise and ambivalent they were, the more "points" they earned, and if the king was present the points were awarded by a jovial guffaw and perhaps an approving wave of his royal ruffled hand.

These words were popularly known as "bon mots," which in translation literally means "good words," but, as used, carried more the sense of "clever witticisms." Their latter-day use is mainly in television situation comedies, and probably none of those does it better than "Frazier." That may be where I picked up the term "bon mot," though I've also seen a movie where the game was played to the amusement of King Louis Whatever.

In the church, a tradition dating to at least the fifth century makes use of another kind of "good word." Each feast has its particular good word in the form of a formal greeting between worshippers. For Pascha (Easter, "the feast of feasts"), it's "Christ is risen!/Indeed, He is risen!" At Nativity (Christmas), it's "Christ is born!/Glorify Him." On most Sundays the exchange is "Christ is in our midst!/He is and ever shall be."

In the charismatic Protestant tradition, the Good Word is "Jesus," which is often advocated as a prayer in a single word. But that tradition also has ancient precedent in Orthodoxy, where innumerable fathers have encouraged praying the name of Jesus, but with the more fully formed thought around it: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." Many monks have practiced that prayer so much that eventually it "prays itself" in their subconscious or preconscious minds. The most popular book for centuries, other than the Bible, in Orthodoxy has been the Russian classic, The Way of the Pilgrim, which describes how a layman found, and found how to use, the Jesus Prayer. And several generations of American students are familiar with a contemporary short novel, by J. D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey, about a not-religious New York girl who becomes captivated by the same prayer from reading the Russian book.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

Daffynitions (bon mots?)

EGOTIST: Someone who is usually me-deep in conversation.

GOSSIP: A person who will never tell a lie if the truth will do more damage.

HANDKERCHIEF: Cold Storage.

INFLATION: Cutting money in half without damaging the paper.

MOSQUITO: An insect that makes you like flies better.

RAISIN: Grape with a sunburn.

—Sent by Mike Harrison

Thought for the day

Life is not meant to be easy, my child; but take courage—it can be delightful.

—George Bernard Shaw

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