Centering, Words, and “Das Vaterunser”

M. Basil Pennington, the late Cistercian monk who encouraged and guided many in the devotional practice of “Centering Prayer,” urges in his writings that readers (and pray-ers) focus on a “sacred word” in Centering Prayer sessions.

When focusing on a special word, I almost always reach for my dictionary as encouraged by a gentle college professor of psychology who insisted students learn to “read” dictionaries; that is, to delve into not only definitions, but etymologies, synonyms and antonyms, and the subtle distinction of manifold forms and usages of the words (including translations of those words).

I think I can confidently say this professor believed “every” word is sacred.

As a native Hungarian and fluent speaker of German, Dr. Theodore Thass-Thienemann had been pressed into instructing classes in that tongue, and he urged those he taught into a tiny exercise of centering by demanding every class of German begin with a unison recitation—Auf Deutsch—of The Lord’s Prayer (The “Our Father”; in German, “Das Vaterunser”).

Many years after I finished college, I learned of this mentor’s death, and his 1985 obituary noted he had been trained not only in psychology but in linguistics. By that time, thanks to him, I had become an avid dictionary-devotee.

I’m still relearning his lessons, and I’ve come to believe, as he instilled in me, that every word is sacred. Thanks be to God!




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