Farewell, Goodbye, and What We Do With Words
Often taken as simple remarks of departure, “farewell” and “goodbye” contain a deeply robust etymology.
“Farewell” stems from “Fare thee well,” wishing the other person the best wherever they might go. Rather than a term of abandonment, “farewell” carries an implicit blessing, that they might be blessed and well wherever they go.
Similarly, “goodbye” finds its root in “God be with you.” Whether we know it or not (typically we do not), this simply phrase has become the English language’s most popular blessing and benediction. (I imagine that a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, something like “mathfobye” became common). What is commonly seen as a signifier that someone is leaving is actually a blessing to one another. As you continue on your journey may you remember that God is with you.
This is what we do to words.
They are a container for rich meaning that we often overlook or forget about. They are immensely powerful, conveying more than simply thoughts or ideas, but carrying a non-material weight in our world and lives. While words always represent (or point to) something, they also have the ability to do something. At first glance “farewell” and “goodbye” seem like simple and natural tokens to offer at a departure, but looking deeper we realize just how significant they are.
In our worship gatherings we ought to say “goodbye” and “farewell” to one another, not as an indication that our worship has concluded but as a signifier that it continues in all aspects of our life and being.
As Schmit points out in Sent and Gathered, worship and mission are synonymous. One does not end so that the other might begin, but rather they continue simultaneously and perpetually throughout the life of the people of God. Schmit goes on to say that “wrongly construed, the moment of sending can give the sense that worship is a containable set of activities, bracketed by a musical prelude and postlude, and complete within itself” (Kindle location 711). Worship is not something that starts and stops at 9a or 11a once a week, but worship is finding God and joining God in whatever you do. (And to emphasize their synonymous nature, so is mission.) This is not something we are dismissed from; it is something we are sent to. A benediction is a good word that reminds us who we are called to be, a blessing is a reminder that God is with us now and always.
At Fifty6 and The.element, the middle school ministries I currently lead, we end each night with a benediction. Everyone is invited to place one hand open before them and the other raised in a fist above them. I remind them each week that we hold an open hand to receive these words from one another and we hold our fist up in solidarity with one another. Then phrase by phrase, we repeat a good word and blessing to one another.
This is not a dismissal, but a sending.
This is a “God be with you” and “Fare thee well.”
April 25, 2012