A friend of mine who’s a rabbi teaches that if you say amen to a blessing, you have said the whole blessing. I loved learning that, because when I worship with Jewish friends and can’t recite the Hebrew, nevertheless I can affirm amen and I get divine credit for having said the whole prayer.
And I like knowing that because even if I have only a second to pay attention to a special moment in my day, I can say amen to that tiny noticing and it’s as if I have comprehended the whole of it.
When Jesus pronounced “amen” in his native Aramaic language, he would have said ah-MEEN, and that’s the way it’s pronounced in Arabic today. I like to pronounce the word AH-men (rather than AY-men) because ah is a sound of contentedness – we can use more of that to lubricate the complicated gears of our world.
Basically amen means “this is true,” “may this continue to be true,” “may it be so.” Or it may be used to say to God, okay, that’s the end of what I have to say, now it’s Your turn.
Amen is pronounced at the end of a Christian hymn or after many biblical psalms, to seal the psalm’s praise or complaint or lament. Amen can be said in joy (“this is wonderful!”) or grief (“I hate this, but nevertheless I trust that all shall – eventually – be well”). It can be repeated as a work song or a long farewell (think Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field.) Amen can be danced with glee, or moaned as a two-syllable bittersweet confession that I am very, very confused, I don’t have any other words to use, and I need some guidance here.
When I was a kid fidgeting in church, amen mostly meant the end to one more monotonous part of Sunday morning, and another step closer to my deliverance out into the snow that fell last night. At the dinner table it meant that we could now pass the mashed potatoes and dig in.
As an adult I really like the idea of saying amen to a blessing, even one I don’t understand. I want to be aware of all the moments in my day to which I can say “yes”; and more than that, I can say dozens of amens, acknowledging how many blessings there are, of all different sizes and shapes and sorts. My rabbi friend recommends saying amen to others’ blessings as well, to augment their moments of pleasure and good fortune.
It’s spring here on Whidbey Island, with daffodils and alder catkins and plum blossoms in profusion, birds copulating and building nests, hints that rain may be lessening. It’s a very good time to be aware of yes-moments, the times when we can say amen, when we can affirm and amplify the blessings in our lives. Amen.