It is a word of affirmation, comfort, agreement, and relief. It is a word that completes vows, promises, blessings, and all of our prayers. It is a word of release – signaling the end of far too lengthy worship services – and it is the “Get ready…Get set…Go!” when we have gathered around the dinner table to eat. The word, of course, is “Amen.”
At its most basic definition “Amen” means, “Let it be.” Thus, when we say “Amen” at the conclusion of our prayers, we are not saying, “the end” (though I’ve heard many children finish that way); we aren’t finishing our prayers at all. We are actually beginning, for we are confirming and confessing our trust in the God to whom we have just prayed.
“Amen,” then, is a sort of faith signature that we sign to our prayers. “Let it be,” we are declaring, “as God wills it.” So, every time we invoke this familiar word, we are saying “Yes” to God’s perspective about the world and about us, and we are saying “No” to all other perspectives.
Every “Amen” becomes an argument to convince ourselves, over and over again, that God knows us best and knows what is best for us. And speaking of “God knows,” God knows we tend to argue with ourselves, don’t we? Late in the day, quietly in the dark; early in the morning before we’ve had our coffee or medication; driving alone with only the hum of the tires on the pavement: We have these conversations with ourselves that those in recovery have learned to call, “Stinking Thinking.”
We create these stories inside our heads about who we are; how we have failed; how ashamed we should be of ourselves; how unworthy we are; how utterly useless our lifework has been; how we are a lousy father, mother, parent, business owner or whatever. I’m convinced that many people can’t be quiet, and they can’t still their minds because they can’t bear what they say to themselves in the quiet moments.
So, they have to keep the volume of life turned up to ear-bleeding levels and they keep the pace of life at breakneck speed. These people aren’t busy, they are suffering, and I can’t blame them for wanting to smother the voices in their heads, because a majority of the time that self-guided narrative they are feeding themselves is erroneous, untrue, and downright destructive.
Obviously there are those who do not have the voices of shame and inadequacy screaming in their brains. There are those who have, shall we say, more narcissistic tendencies. Their thinking is about how great they are; how overlooked and persecuted they have been; how they are so much better than that other guy and why can’t everybody see that. It’s a line of thought on the other end of the emotional spectrum, but it is “Stinking Thinking” all the same.
This, then, is one of the great benefits of prayer – and I don’t think it matters if that prayer is guided by means of a rosary, prayer beads, meditation, a daily repetition of a favorite Scripture, or some other spiritual practice. People who pray aren’t simply memorizing a repeated litany of words or practicing religious rituals. They are, in a real sense, reprogramming their software. They are overwriting the faulty components of their thinking.
They are experiencing the transformation of their hearts and minds, for in learning to listen to God’s voice in prayer (and listening is a learned art form) they can turn down the cacophony of voices around them. And yes, these other voices include the “Stinking Thinking” inside their own heads.
Those who learn to truly pray are empowered to say, “Amen, let it be!” to God’s voice, and to shout in protest, “No, absolutely not!” to all other pretensions – especially those pretensions that are manufactured from within. Such praying may not get one everything he or she asks for, but such praying may lead one to getting what he or she needs; and to that, I must say, “Amen.”