Some data stinks of decay by the time it fires our synapses. For example, Every 60 seconds 168 million emails are sent on the Internet – 694,445 search queries are made. What a frenetic world we live in. Still, still, such data provokes some of us to tune up our hyper-drive. Daylight’s burning. Let’s get to warp speed. And, if that is beyond us for the present, let’s get into overdrive or rev the engine up to see the “tachometer” quiver. Tachos is Greek for “speed”, and metron, “to measure.”
Ah, but how do we measure the speed of our lives?
Words can show us one of our underlying compulsions – life must have momentum. Let’s adventure into the lively lexicon and pause to look at seven words while pondering two.
“Speed,” for example, may be related to the Latin sperare “to hope” or the Old English word – sped – “success, prosperity, advancement.” What enticing descriptors – what evidence of our “need for speed.”
But, beware. We who are enchanted by speed risk crashing. When we become accustomed or addicted to “hurtling” (see “hurt”), we can become random – “having no definite aim or purpose.” The Middle English phrase – at random – “at great speed” – implied being “careless, haphazard, or impetuous.” The Old French – randon – meant “rush, disorder, or force.”
Albert Einstein is reported to have said, “The problem with the speed of light is, it comes too early in the morning!” We also have a built-in need to “rest” – Old English ræste, “rest, bed, intermission of labor, mental peace.” We need “sustainability” – from Latin sustinere “hold up, support, endure,” from sub “up from below” + tenere “to hold” (see “tenacious”). We wonder: “What or who will provide such a foundational grip?”
But, then, irresolute creatures that we are, we fear becoming stuck – feeling trapped. We can feel “claustrophobic.” This word was coined in 1879. It comes from combining the Latin claustrum – “a bolt, a means of closing, a place shut in” + phobia – “fear.” A claustrophobic marriage, for example, is one where the emphasis has been placed upon the “lock” instead of the “wed.” “Desperate” (literally, “without” – de + “hope” – sperare”) we vacillate between crying out: “Is there a trap door?” and “Bolt the door!”
What happens to our need for speed and rest when we turn to God-words?
Let’s combine “God” with “speed.” Most dictionaries tell us that the farewell, “Godspeed,” simply means: “I wish you success – prosperity – in your travels.” Certainly, when we are at our best, we wish our friends the best. And when we are archaic enough to wish them “Godspeed,” we may be making that attempt. God knows, and we do too, that there may be hazards any time we venture forth. But, consciously or not, when the word “Godspeed” leaves our lips, we are saying much more than: “I hope you have good weather and avoid flat tires.” We are asking the God of the universe to accompany our friends. Holy companionship!
And, more. What if God actually honors our request? Dart to the heart, what if our friends’ journey becomes, in some way, like the road to Emmaus? And since God is patient and merciful, having him as a fellow traveler may slow our friends’ trip. Think Good Samaritan. Or our friends may need to get a move on if they are going to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. “Godspeed” is variable.
“Godspeed” became well known in the fourteenth century. Of course, when this word was coined, we don’t know what our forbearers intended. Were they really calling on God when they spoke? If so, speculate at the ponderous drift of “Godspeed” to today’s focus on personal safety. Massive God-neglect is normal for us – so the drift is not unexpected. But, still, “Godspeed” calls upon God. What if, instead of safe travels, God knows we need a good story? Why mask the companionable wonder of this word? Why let the superficiality of personal safety rob us of truly calling on the best Friend and his purposes for us? Why, indeed.
How do we measure the speed of life? We can look to words as standards. But, these may be infirm – even God-words.
We need God himself. Let’s remember the Word made flesh who came at God’s speed – in the fullness of time – who on a real cross suffered deeply for those who would come to love him in return. He is a rock – a rock who does not drift – even when confronted with century long forces of verbal tectonics. Let’s anticipate the pleasure and challenge of dynamic friendship with him. He is the friend who does not burn out or rust out. He resolutely sings over us: “I speed you; I rest you!” Let’s join him by infusing vigor into our word, “Godspeed,” – a word that – having lain fallow – may now resound truly in our hearts and our ears. Glorious harmony!
Finally, let’s turn from these thoughts about speed to an apparently unrelated word: “friend.” When we compare words from the fourteenth century with our own, we find more than drift. We also find an old use that is new. Our forbearers used “friend” as a verb! We may be surprised that “friending” someone was possible before the advent of Facebook. But see how the fourteenth century Old English used “friend:”
- freondleast – “lack of friends” (have you been “defriended?”);
- freondspedig – “rich in friends” – or freonsped – “an abundance of friends” (note “speed” is part of both of these words).
So, here is one way to measure the “speed” of our lives. What a delight, to value making friends “speedily” – successfully – the way Jesus has made friends with many. Imagine hearing God say: “I friend you!” Godspeed, indeed! Fast Friend, indeed! Hear the One who was called a “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19), when he urges: “Gain friends for yourselves” (Luke 16:9).
Speak, Friend, and enter – speedily.
Sucking out (some of) the marrow-nourishment from the bone-words with you,