The Limit of Words

I participated in initiatories for our ward’s temple assignment last night. I’ve always loved this whole-bodied offering where every part of us is anointed to get about the task of God’s good work on earth.

While listening to the words there were places where the flow of my happy mind hit speed bumps. I always have snags when I hear I have to be something “unto” my husband or I have to listen to his counsel. What bugs me is not the particular man in question, but the suspicion that the men are not similarly encouraged to listen to wives. It’s an old saw, a clichéd feminist complaint. I’ve been trained to sniff out “differences” and analyze the whats, whys, and whens. My analyses aren’t always comforting. I’d like to move past these – with both intellectual and spiritual integrity.

Once I listened to the words in German. The proposition used for becoming a reigning queen “unto” your husband is the word “an”. It carries more of the connotation of being “up next to”, kind of like “rubbing shoulders with” – or, I suppose, sharing ribs. That I can relax into. Sort of. That just puts me into a theological fret about whether I have any desire to actually reign anywhere. I think I’d rather just be glorifying and connecting with God, not so much being one myself. And the prospect of populating worlds leaves me reeling and exhausted.

But I didn’t want to get fussy and caught up in the snarls brought on by words and their limitations, or my own limitations in understanding them. I decided to settle into the whole experience and let it envelope me. I took it all in – the rustling fabric, the gossamer whispering, the names of my ladies (all from Ireland, a very special place to me), the scent of breath mints, the feel of the liquids on my head, the kind faces of the women with authority.

I’d also been reeling lately with deep longing for my friend Ann Stone who died in February. One of the ladies with authority was another close friend of Ann’s. The patron in the next booth was yet another close friend of Ann’s. It was both poignant and painful to be in this circle without Ann; yet she might have been with us, too, hovering nearby, cheering us on in this noble work of and for women. I felt awash in support and sisterhood and community and commitment, despite all the confusions that make this mortal life the wrestle that it is.

Then, as a final insight, I remembered the Gospel of John. For all of my struggles with earth’s words, grammar, and contexts, here was the only real Word to fasten on: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth.”


  1. I would really love to hear more about “unto” in other languages. I’ve never known quite what it should mean, so mentally substituting “up next to” would mean a lot to me.

  2. I felt awash in support and sisterhood and community and commitment, despite all the confusions that make this mortal life the wrestle that it is.

    I loved this line. There is something powerful in sisterhood and women in community together that is healing, and that can make me feel whole in ways that nothing else can.

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