The New Narthex

There are certain churchy phrases that annoy me. That’s probably not a news flash to faithful readers of this blog but of late I can’t seem to get several of these out of my head.

Many of these phrases or words convey profound meaning and are deeply inspirational to those who use them. My intent isn’t to belittle or demean anyone’s personal spiritual experience. Really. Rather it’s to highlight the fact that we often get so caught up in our insider language of faith that most people have no clue what we’re talking about. To me this small collection has become the “new narthex” — the spiritual equivalent of archaic phrases describing church architecture (words that I adore, mind you). Ie. telling the church visitor how to get to coffee hour: “It’s easy. Just go through the narthex, past the sacristy, and then down to the undercroft.” Huh?

So here’s my little list:

Thin Place. This isn’t slang for the local Weight Watchers. Nor does it refer to the space between the high altar and the free-standing altar that was put in place in 1978. It’s meant to convey the “thinness” of the veil between heaven and earth in certain inspirational places. Visitors to the isle of Iona off the coast of Scotland often refer to it as “a thin place.” In many church pews it might also describe the amount of padding on the kneelers.

Traveling Mercies. You’ll see this phrase on Facebook comment threads when someone posts that they’ll soon be leaving for General Convention in Indianapolis. Or heading out to the Grand Canyon with the family in the Buick station wagon. It was the title of a popular Anne Lamott book (yes, I read it a few years ago and liked it) and I think it has been a popular phrase among Episcopalians ever since. In my opinion “Godspeed” suffices.

Namaste. Oh, don’t get all bent out of shape yoga fanatics. As some of you know, I tried yoga about a year ago, shockingly liked it, and still practice it semi-regularly. (Read about the experience here). Nonetheless, this word annoys me. It means something like “let the light inside of me, shine in you.” Too new-agey for my taste. Plus, anyone who says it suddenly seems to crave a soy, half caf latte from Starbucks.

Liminal. In addition to rhyming with “minimal” (I really should pen a limerick), this word means “the space between.” How vague is that? Used spiritually, it’s kind of synonymous with “thin place.” In liturgy, it refers to a transitional state when a rite has begun but has not yet been completed. In other words, it’s a good word to throw around when you want to confuse people. Note to seminarians: use this word in a sermon and prepare for the silent treatment at coffee hour.

Fellowshipping. This is not a real verb! If you hear someone using it, run for your life. Or be forever committed to making a monthly tuna casserole hot dish (tater tots on top, please). And I don’t want to hear from anyone interested in dialoguing about this.

That’s it for now. I’ll likely have Part II at some point — suggestions welcome.

Wish me traveling mercies as I head to Indianapolis on Thursday for Lent Madness Day (July 6). I hope “thin place” doesn’t refer to the walls between rooms in my hotel. There will likely be tons of fellowshipping though the liturgies will presumably be more minimal than liminal. Namaste.

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10 Comments on “The New Narthex”

  1. Bob Chapman says:

    Use “liminal” and be prepared for a question on the 39 Articles after the service. You know what I mean.

  2. revbranwen says:

    Bob, that reminds me of the “old days” when bishops publicly interrogated candidates on the catechism before confirming them — and then slapped them when they were “done!”

  3. Ev says:

    A couple of words and phrases that I just can’t stomach are: purposeful or purposefully…I think the correct word is purposely. Also signage…it’s a sign…no “age.” And newer now, which you hear TV news people use a lot…went missing. How do you “go missing?” You are just…missing! Instead of “he went missing on…” it’s just “he’s been missing since…” uhhh

  4. aleathia (Dolores) nicholson says:

    Mercy! That’s it…..just “Mercy!”

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Popular with commentators and pundits of all sorts, including preachers and psychologists: “Issues around.” If you have issues “around” something, you are you are dancing “around” the issue and not confronting it. Get a middle-school English grammar book, review the chapter on prepositions, and when you are done, perhaps you can work begin to work “through” it, and get it “behind” you, like Satan.

  6. Mariclaire says:

    although such an action saves the justice system a great deal of time and money, I am tired of hearing “the gunman turned the gun on himself”

  7. Ev says:

    Ohhh…I’ve got another one…”I’ve got your back”…hah! Well, I guess that means we need to check our backsides in the full length mirror before we leave the house! I mean, if someone “has my back” I want it to look good…you know, sorta’ like J-Lo’s! ha!

  8. ;o) Here’s mine: “That resonates with me.” Really? Do tuning forks run in your family?

  9. lemming says:

    When I teach Sunday School I always play a game called “Church Tag” – the class has a set period of time (which decreases over time, ‘cos that’s the kind of teacher I am) in which they run up to the board and label each of the parts of the church. This and Sondheim are the only reasons why I can correctly identify the apse.

    Looking forward to singing at the convention on Sunday; bummed to miss Lent Madness. Any chance you’ll extend it to Saturday?

  10. . . . continuing on . . . — why on, just continue!
    Note to Ev: maybe you have to be from a place where you are or were liable to be shot in the back. It makes sense where I grew up!


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