Some time ago I signed up for a Word of the Day email from Merriam Webster. And unlike most daily email subscriptions (that I immediately regret), I have really enjoyed this little bit of education in my inbox. My favorite part of each email is the fun facts about the etymology or history of the word's use--language can be so interesting! You never know where you might find some spiritual inspiration. This month's word comes from an email I received in September.
Let's try to get our arms around this one,
Word of the Month: FATHOM
Meaning: to penetrate and come to understand
What struck me so deeply about this word came directly from Merriam Webster's Word of the Day email:
"Today's word comes to us from Old English fæthm, meaning 'outstretched arms.' The noun fathom, which now commonly refers to a measure (especially of depth) of six feet, was originally used for the distance, fingertip to fingertip, created by stretching one's arms straight out from the sides of the body. In one of its earliest uses, the verb fathom meant to encircle something with the arms as if for measuring and was also a synonym of embrace. In the 1600s, however, fathom took on the meaning of using a sounding line to measure depth."
While fathom is a word we tend to use when it comes to understanding... it is perhaps something we use even more frequently when speaking of trying to fathom the depths of God's love, mercy, generosity, etc. We tend to use this word to speak to understanding something of depth something beyond our reach. Fathom literally means--measuring DEPTH! Literal depth! Not just depth of meaning. So when we go to prayer... when we attempt to grow in relationship with God, we're not only searching to understand the depth of God--fathoming Who HE is and Who WE are, but we're attempting to draw closer.
Here's the most striking part of the MW definition:
"In one of its earliest uses, the verb fathom meant to encircle something with the arms as if for measuring and was also a synonym of embrace.”
We are called to fathom the mystery of God... to WRAP OUR ARMS AROUND THE MYSTERY... because our search is not simply intellectual... it comes from the heart, it involves the soul, the body, our everything. We are truly called to grasp, grapple with, wrestle like Jacob, to embrace the mystery of God. To grow in understanding--to fathom God--we need more than instruction or formation... we need relationship!
BONUS: And if that isn't enough... let's fathom for a moment, the definition of God's love--the outstretching of the arms of Jesus.