“Between Marx and marzipan
in the dictionary
there was Mary
Between the Deep Blue Sea
and the Devil
that was me…”
“Worker’s Playtime” by Billy Bragg was pretty much the sountrack of my life as I courted my beloved Bride-to-be. Before iPads and iPods, back in the late 80’s and earliest 1990’s I’d walk the several blocks to and fro between my dorm room and her parents’ house. The cassette played on and on my AA-cell battery powered, cheap knockoff of Sony’s Walkman, foam-covered headphones resounding with these Billy Bragg tunes.
Late November and December nights, crisp fall air, stars glorious and bright, I remember watching these songs wafting on my breath beside me as I sang them along my troubadour trail home:
“…I wonder sometimes how did Dad meet Mum
And how did they conceive of me…”
Looking up from my dictionaries, I meditated on this “Anxiety” word (merimnaó) as used in Matthew 6:24-34. Scripture is both ancient and enduring. Words are not such static things, though their ‘cloud of meaning’ tends to linger in time and morph much more slowly through the centuries than the latest entries in the Urban Dictionary might lead one to believe. I try to pick just one or two words from each passage to learn where and how they are used throughout Scripture each week.
The Billy Bragg song came to mind because of the words I found entered in the dictionary just prior to (merimnaó) and just after it. The “meri-” prefix likely gets its meaning from those terms, dividing into portions or tearing something into pieces. The ‘-mnaó’ root has to do with the activity of the mind or memory. Etymology is sometimes helpful in finding the general shape of that ‘cloud of meaning.’
As we consider this “Anxiety” word, the Biblical concept involves a mind torn or divided. In context, Matthew shows Jesus gathering and picking up the pieces we’ve strewn all about: food, drink, clothing, money, God and life itself. What a mess! What, now birds?!? Oh, look, birds… A mind runs everywhere in between all the shredded confetti one calls life. It leaves one spiritually unsettled, such that nothing gets its due attention–and especially not God.
“You cannot serve both,” Jesus says. “No one can serve two masters.” Nor three, nor four, nor any more than one Lord. Would you be free from spiritual anxiety? We’ve gotta start somewhere, I reckon. Starting with the abiding love and continual care of our heavenly Father for all His creatures, Jesus says “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”