I Think I Need A Laxative

Sometimes things get lost in the translation. For example, below are a few of the commonest phrases used in the Arabic language, translated literally into English. See if you can guess their original meaning…


“A Jasmine dawn”

“Every year and you are kind”

“From under to under”

When we read the Bible in a translated language (like English), a lot of the more subtle nuances and meanings are also lost. Often the only way to find them is to read a good commentary (or perhaps go the whole way and learn Hebrew and Greek!) Here is one example…

SPLAGCHNA

Please don’t ask me how to pronounce it! It’s a Greek word that literally means ‘bowels’. It is often used in the New Testament, both as a noun and a verb (‘to bowel’). How? Here are a few verses with the word ‘splagchna’ translated literally…

“Through the bowels of mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78,79)

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on bowels of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering” (Colossians 3:12)

“But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his bowels from him, how does the love of God abide in him? ” (I John 3:17)

It turns out that in the Greek mind of the time, the word ‘bowels’ was used to describe all the organs of the chest and abdomen, especially the ‘nobler’ ones like the heart, the lungs and the liver. It represented the deepest feelings, feelings that stir an almost physical tingle inside you. While Greek poets tended to use it as a metaphor for the more violent passions such as anger, in the east it came to represent more tender affections like kindness, compassion and pity.

The use of the word in Greek strongly relays the sense of a very deep feeling, a feeling that involves the whole person rather than a superficial one. Anyone who has suffered colic or constipation or, God forbid, a twisted bowel will know exactly what I am talking about! It is a feeling you cannot ignore, a feeling that commands your total and complete attention.

So the New Testament authors who use this word are telling us that mercy, pity, compassion and kindness should not be some sort of superficial coat we put on for the public and put in the closet when we go home. They should come from the very depths of our being. Concern for others should cut deeply into the soft tissue of our inward parts, our ‘bowels’. They should be an inseperable part of us, of who we are. They should be ‘gut reactions’ that flow naturally from our Christ-filled nature.

That is how God loves us, in so far as we can describe God in human terms at least (He has no real bowels):

“Through the bowels of mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78,79)

That is how we should deal with each other – not superficially, not artificially:

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on bowels of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering” (Colossians 3:12)

And that is what should naturally flow into our actions, automatically:

“But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his bowels from him, how does the love of God abide in him? ” (I John 3:17)

Which is a very apt description of “Compassion Constipation” – the state where a person’s ‘bowels’ are no longer ‘moved’ by care for others. He becomes obsessed with his own inner feelings and pain and can no longer give to others.

What this person needs is something to clear him out – to unblock the obstacle – to free the ‘bowels’. There is no better ‘spiritual laxative’ than love. Love melts the hardened heart and fills the suffocating lungs with fresh clean air. Love takes away our colic and replaces it with a sense of comfort and inner peace. Blessed indeed is the person who is loved.

And we are all loved. Not only by those whom God has given us in our lives to be our family and friends, but especially by God Himself. His love is apparent in His daily care for us, His support and comfort in hard times, and on the Cross, that eternal symbol of His ‘bowel-felt’ compassion for His children. The gut-wrenching agony of the Crucifixion is the greatest image of what love really means.

You are loved.

Let that knowledge move you in the inner parts of your being.

Fr Ant

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