No No Words




So you really do learn something new everyday.

Yesterday, I learned about the practice of not saying the word “alleluia” during Lent.

I’ve been in the church my entire life, but this is something I’ve never heard of before. That’s probably due in large part to the fact that I grew up in a tradition that is not historically very liturgical or sacramental. So, something like this wouldn’t “fit” well in most of the churches in my tradition.

Not wanting to be the only person in church who didn’t know what was going on when the children’s pastor “buried” a piece of paper with the word “alleluia” written on it in an ornate box, I just smiled and went along for the ride as if I knew exactly what was happening.

As it turns out this burying of the alleluia is a practice that dates back to at least the 5th century. Lent is a time of penitence, of remembering our sinful nature and the great sacrifice that brought about our redemption. Traditionally, this time of sober preparation is not a time to celebrate. By not using celebratory words like “alleluia” during Lent, we allow the rejoicing on Easter Sunday to be the paradigm shifting moment of celebration it truly is.

So, for the next 35 days, “alleluia” is a no no word.

You know about no no words. We learn about them when we’re kids and come home, repeat something we heard at school, and then get reamed out by our parents for saying a no no word.

The FCC has a list of no no words too. That list has evolved over the years, but say the wrong thing on TV and they’ll either bleep you out or fine you.

Even the church has no no words, topics or issues that are not supposed to be talked about amongst good, God fearing people:  suicide, porn, anger, latent racism, abuse, bigotry and misogyny, gluttony, the sex trade, eating disorders. And of course there are people with “issues” we’d rather not talk to or about: homosexuals, the depressed, people we hate or resent, the divorced, people of a different political party, those who have sinned publicly, the working poor.

We prefer our Christianity to be nice and easy and our churches to be pretty and clean. These sorts of issues and those sorts of people prevent us from living out our grand illusion. So, we ignore them in hopes that they’ll simply go away, letting us continue on in our blissful ignorance free from the burden of dealing with other people’s problems.

As creatures made in the image of a Creator who spoke creation into existence, I think we fear that we might echo this creative act when we speak about no no subjects. We fear, or know, that by talking about things we give them life and thus have to confront and wrestle with them.

This can be (and often is) a brutally painful process, which is exactly why these things became no no subjects in the first place. By not speaking about them, we ignore them, deprive them of life, and convince (or deceive) ourselves into thinking that we’ll never have to deal with them because they don’t exist. But of course they do exist. Ignoring them only delays the inevitable confrontation with our source of awkwardness, discomfort, and pain.

Despite our best efforts however, eventually everything that is kept in the dark will find its way into the light. Eventually everything will be spoken back into existence. Eventually we will have to deal with the things and the people we try so desperately to avoid.

So, we need to find a way to stop pretending as if there are not difficult, messy issues that good, Christian people must address. Only by doing so can we begin to do the arduous work of healing, reconciliation, and redemption. When we do this we are truly embodying the image of our Creature who brought about new life through the ordering of chaos.

Likewise, by being proactive about these taboo subjects we have a better chance of addressing them effectively and to some extent on our own terms, rather than being blindsided by them at the worst possible moment. By speaking our pain, discomfort, and awkward tension into existence we bring it into the Light and allow God the chance to do what God does best: heal our pain, end our suffering, and mend our broken relationships.

There should be “no no words”. At least in the sense that we should never speak words that tear other people down. However, we should also find the integrity to wrestle with the challenges that face us and, by through the grace of God, the courage to speak about the pain that haunts us. Such efforts are restorative, holy acts. In participating in these redemptive acts, we find hope for genuine healing and the promise of a future worth living in.

So during Lent this year, make an effort to talk about the no no words in your life. Refuse to let them continue to fester in your life. Speak them into existence so that they can be brought into the Light and redeemed. Face those issues and those people you fear with courage, grace, and humility, allowing the Spirit to heal you both. Then, when Easter morning comes around you will find yourself in a place where you can truly begin to celebrate resurrection and new life for those things will have become your reality.


Grace and peace,

Zack Hunt