Yesterday I wrote a post on Discipleship Shortcuts based on a scrawled note on a 3×5 card from about a month ago. I enjoyed writing that post and the comments that have been appended to it, so I got to wondering what else I might have jotted down and forgotten about. No promises of profundity, mind you. And lo and behold, a bit of rooting around on my desks produces a “bulletin” from St. Benedict’s Table for April 20, 2008, 5th Sunday of Easter. When I say “bulletin,” I mean a simple double-sided 8½x11 sheet of paper with song lyrics and a few community notices on it. Sometimes I take them home for things I’ve written down, sometimes for the song lyrics, and sometimes to remind me of an upcoming event. The one from last Sunday evening said at the bottom of the second side, “The incense we’ll be using for the next while comes from the Monastery of St. John the Theologian on Patmos, Greece.” I’ve never thought about where the incense came from before, and wouldn’t care for it if they listed the Winnipeg store where you could buy it, but this time I appreciated knowing. Of course, it smells even better when you know. I mean, St. John, my favorite. (Jamie Howison & family just returned from a trip that included Greece, so I don’t think this will be a normal thing from now on.)
In any event, it seems that on April 20th of this year, I jotted a note down on the bulletin and brought it home. It probably came from something Jamie said during his homily, or sermuncle (the link is just to prove it’s a real word.) I actually care about words, and it really grates on me when people say “insure” when they mean “ensure” or when they say “orientated” when they mean “oriented,” or an number of other peeves. And when I’m done this explanation, you’ll think me really arcane, but it’ll be relevant in a minute.
Once when I was in college I was sitting with a group of friends having lunch, and my friend Bob used the word “orientated.” I had to protest, but you see, Bob was at least as much a wordsnob as I was. Am. Whatever. He objected to my correction when I told him that the word was oriented, and there was no such word as “orientated,” which was no more than a bastardization of the proper word. “Conversation” ensued for a few minutes, involving both of us jabbing a finger in the air to emphasize a point. Finally, with neither of us backing down and in desperate need of an authoritative ruling, we stood up and marched directly and quite deliberately from the cafeteria to the library. I can only imagine the conversation that took place in our absence as our companions stared at our abandoned food trays, and frankly, perhaps I’d rather not.
In the library, we marched straight to the big OED — the Oxford English Dictionary, “the definitive record of the English language.” The library had the compact edition, which we consulted. You know the compact edition, which is a little bigger than 9×12″ by 3″ thick in each of the two volumes in their slipcase, which has a built-in drawer for the magnifying glass which accompanies the volumes. Cracking one open, you realize that each page shows four pages, reduced in size to fit. You’d be lost without the magnifying glass, and I know all of these stats because this is the same edition which I have in my study. (I told you you’d think me arcane, but it gets worse.) What we found was this:
orient … fig. To adjust, correct, or bring into defined relations, to known facts or principles; refl. to put oneself in the right position or relation; also, to ascertain one’s ‘bearing’, find out ‘where one is’. …
orientate … intr. To face toward the east, or in some specified direction; to turn to the east. …
If you have any experience of the OED, you’ll know that searching the web for quick definitions to link produced unsatisfactory summaries by comparison. Obviously I’m citing very selectively from the definitions, which both root back to the word “Orient” which refers not only to a geographic region, but to the placing of anything facing east, or in a spiritually significant direction. The words in fact overlap a lot in meaning, and are actually synonyms in many contexts, which irks me somewhat.
So Bob and I were both wrong, and we decided that while orientated was, in fact, a word, Bob had used it where he should have used oriented. We meandered back to our group in the cafeteria in a much more subdued frame than the one in which we’d left it, discussing the matter between ourselves. We concluded, and summarized for the group, that it was best to speak of being or becoming oriented with one’s surroundings, while one should speak of being orientated toward some goal or purpose.
You don’t have to believe me, and you can even get away with not following this convention (though it might irk me at times), but it is helpful background for what I scrawled on my St. Ben’s bulletin, where I wrote,
From this phrase I drew a brace and an arrow }→ pointing to another scribble:
___ Practices for living toward The Way, Truth, & Life.”
The reference, of course, it to John 14:3-5:
[Jesus:] “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”
“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Of course, to the Pharisees, Jesus said,
Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.
And so I’m thinking about the orientated life, a life that is always pointing toward something, arranged to progress toward a specific spiritual end. In answer to Thomas’ question, Jesus replies,
I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!
And the answer is, of course, a disciplined life, a discipled life, orientated toward Jesus, oriented with his Word and his ways. “Discipleship” has become a tricky word with a bad history, and perhaps this is partly why I have come to prefer the term “spiritual formation.” Spiritual formation speaks to me of continually being formed, spiritually, rather than being discipled externally. Could be just me, but discipleship always seemed to have a lot to do with externals, when it’s the internals that matter. It’s the internal orientation that determines the course, not the external one.