Final Words

Peacebang writes about “competitive prayer endings” and how it sometimes seems that we UUs get all bent out of shape if our favorite version of “amen” isn’t included…making prayers and sermons sound like they end with a laundry list.

I have gotten into the habit of ending sermons and prayers with Amen, Ashe’, and Blessed Be. About a third of the congregation now says it with me at the end of the sermon. I’ve tried to give it up, thinking of it as a kind of “tagline” after the evening news and not liking that feeling. But each of the three things I say has meaning to me.

Amen comes from both my Christian roots and the Jewish tradition I married into. I hear amen as “so be it” or “make it so” and find that the power of affirmation in the word amen makes me feel the connection between my words and those who have been listening. Ashe’ is a word I picked up in seminary, from Dr. Ibrahim Farajaje’, who is also known in our family as Uncle Ibrahim. He has been a wonderful uncle to my son and as soon as I first heard him say ashe’ and explain that it is the Yoruba word for “power” I felt something in my soul jump with excitement. To say “power”–as in, “Power to that idea!” or “Power to make that happen!”–seems a much more direct and impassioned way to join in the moment. Blessed be is from my own wanderings in paganism, which has at times brought me great comfort and connection with the holy.

I chose to use all three for several (mostly unconscious) reasons. First, to use amen alone felt a bit empty. It seemed to just assume that one word could possibly hold the variety of ways that human beings express their agreement and assent. Second, blessed be holds a theological significance for me, as a hope for blessing on the gathered community and the world. Third, blessed be challenges the people in our congregations who have a reactionary discomfort with paganism and would be happy if “earth-centered” spirituality were never mentioned again. Ashe’ has the most personal significance for me, and has become a vehicle for education. As a white minister, I am glad to teach people the origin and meaning of the word and hopefully, expand their view of how “Africans” might think or worship. And I have sometimes been honored to hear that someone felt that they were included in some small way in Unitarian Universalism when they heard me include ashe’.

And so I’ve made peace with saying Amen, Ashe’ and Blessed Be. I know that it is forever associated with me in the congregations I have served, kind of like that tagline I hoped to avoid. At my good-bye party from my first interim church, they brought out a stunning cake covered in sunflowers and bearing the benediction Amen, Ashe’ and Blessed be. It felt fitting and I felt blessed.

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4 thoughts on “Final Words

  1. What is the idea behind using all those different endings? Is it supposed to be that each one is the one that speaks to someone in the group? If so, does it make any difference if someone of that background is really in the group or not? Should we be polled to see what we like? or do we just assume?
    How do you decide what to say?

  2. The idea? I wish I had a more specific answer. These are words of assent that mean something to me. I use them as a sort of prayer at the end of the sermon–a wish for the aspirations I’ve set before myself and the congregation to become real, to happen, to be empowered…

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