Thinking, thanking, and a prayer from Mechthild of Magdeburg
A Little Etymology Fun: On Thinking & Thanking
I’m a complete word nerd. One of my little random loves is word etymology. Here’s a blast from my etymology past, as well as something I’m working on in a time where I’m tempted to feel tired and a little scared of other humans.
During my master’s degree, I took a class on reading German (could I read any German now, about a decade later? no.) At the time, I was looking at "danken" and "denken," which in German, are "to thank" and "to think." It suddenly occurred to me that these two words, being just as similar in German as they are in English, must be from the same source. As it turns out, they both derive from the same root in ancient Germanic, the mother tongue, the language that predates both Old German and Old English, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
I was absurdly pleased that my intuition had proved correct, but my surprise was to continue. I read further: "thank" actually means "thought" in certain dialects of Old English. Our modern "thank you" derives from the idea of thinking fondly of a person who has done something good to or for you: I will remember you, I will keep you in my mind. To promise to hold someone in your mind is no light undertaking: when we make decisions with others in mind, depending on who those others are and our relationship with them, our minds can are formed, our actions are influenced. I like this way of thinking about “thank”: it becomes a promise and an action, not a formula in response to a kind word or helpful deed. Thank you often feels formulaic and casual; thinking of someone is so valuable. I am always amazed, sheepish, and grateful when out of the blue, someone random tells me that they have been thinking of me, and really means it.
My temptation is to divide thinking and thanking, one as a critical, deliberate response and one as positive but rather rote at times. I think far more than I thank. I desire to return to the root of these words--the intertwining definitions of thinking and thanking, where the two are twinned in my mind as acts of deliberate response, critical praise, attention. Every thank you, whether to God or to my fellow humans, becomes a promise to them--I see your goodness, I will remember and acknowledge you in your fullness and value.
Words and their histories are just fun and so often surprisingly illuminating about the little mechanisms that make up language and community.
What I’ve been up to this month:
The newest Old Books With Grace episode features Dr. Beth Allison Barr, Baylor history professor and author of The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth. We had a fascinating discussion on shattering stereotypes about medieval women and what role history should play in forming us as Christians. Listen anywhere you get your podcasts (Apple, Spotify). Next week, I welcome the creator of the online community Tea with Tolkien, Kaitlyn Facista, to chat about J.R.R. Tolkien and nerd out on some of his medieval and theological influences. As a lifelong fan of The Lord of the Rings (I may or may not have pretended throughout middle school that I was an elf with a name I made up from Tolkien’s language notes), I am looking forward to this one.
I’ve been steadfastly chipping away at the book project. I unwisely began writing again with the chapter on scholasticism, namely Thomas Aquinas. Intimidating! Thankfully now I have also completed some others (starting on Jesus as Judge this week!) and am back in the flow of things.
I published an essay in Dappled Things on embracing my identity as a child of God in lessons from two of my heroes, Julian of Norwich and Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
What I’ve been reading this month:
Nonfiction: Fr. Greg Boyle’s The Whole Language: The Power of Extravagant Tenderness. Quote I’m mulling over: “God as the divine version of me has proven to be a dangerous projection… God is not fickle, we are. It feels more accurate to know the God who loves us into things. The Tender One who is not so much offended that we’ve separated children from their parents at the border, but who insists on “loving us into” not doing it…We still can’t shake the narrative of the God who seeks our measuring up and demands some high level of performance… We allow this Tender One to fill us extravagantly, then we go into the world and speak the whole language of it, unrestricted, openhearted, and loyally dedicated to its entirety.” (pp. 10-11)
Fiction: Still on my Trollope re-reading journey. I finished the Barchester series and now am on to the Pallisers, at the moment, Phineas Finn. If you enjoy 19th century fiction and have not yet read Trollope—do so, now. Perfect summer reads, often hilarious. Start with Barchester Towers.
Medieval/Medieval-adjacent: The York Corpus Christi Plays… wonderful to return to medieval drama.
A Prayer from the Past
O great dew of the noble Godhead, O tender flower of the sweet maiden, O beneficial fruit of the fair blossom, O holy sacrifice of the Heavenly Father, O faithful pledge of redemption for the whole world! You, Lord, are my refreshment And I am your blossoming. You are small before me, Lord, in your submissiveness, And I am great before you in the misery of my wickedness. Daily I offer you whatever I have: Nothing but baseness. And you, Lord shall infuse me with your grace. Then I can flow from your love.
-Mechthild of Magdeburg, The Flowing Light of the Godhead, Book V
Peace and flowing love for your May,
Thank and think you for this May Medievalish. I loved the quote from Fr. Greg Boyle and the prayer from Mechthild. I really appreciate the thoughts you share in this monthly newsletter. I am wondering if you know who the two figures are in the image you shared. It looks like an illuminated manuscript. It's a lovely image.
Beautiful! Love the prayer and the art too. 😍