Michaelmas–the feast of St. Michael and the other Archangels, Gabriel and Raphael–was last Monday, and it totally snuck up on me. I had previous plans to color angel cut-outs with my kids and do other fun angel-related things to celebrate the feast day, but it came and went during a busy time of travel for my sister’s wedding. So I satisfied myself by simply reading a little bit about St. Michael and the other Archangels while riding home with my family in the mini-van. As I read, I recalled something my husband (also named Michael) once told me about the meaning of his name.
He grew up knowing the meaning of his name to be “who is like God,” which people would interpret to mean resembling God in some way. It always seemed like kind of a nice complement, but he said that there was something that always seemed off about the interpretation to him.
He shared with me that it was not until his adulthood that he found out the phrase actually ends in a question mark; it is a rhetorical question that emphasizes emphatically that no one is like God.
This was the exclamation that St. Michael directed toward Lucifer during the battle of the angels before he was cast out of heaven. The meaning of his name is then quite different from an exaggerated complement of someone having godly qualities. The meaning is actually prophetic in nature; it is a corrective reminder for anyone tempted by the first sin of wanting to be like God. In short, my husband came to learn that the real meaning of his name was vastly different from what he had always thought, and that difference hinged on the slight nuance of an inflection at the end of a phrase that should end with a question mark instead of a period.
Remembering this anecdote underscored for me the serious responsibility of accurately presenting theological and spiritual truths. In the practice of communicating spiritual truth within any Christian community, almost getting it right doesn’t count. The slight variation of a phrase or theological concept can change its meaning completely, and by extension, it can drastically change the way we think about God and our faith.
Being conscious of this fact seems important during a time when we are frequently bombarded with spiritual snippets via many secondary sources. Facebook, Twitter, and various other communication media make helpful platforms for discussing and sharing faith concepts with others. However, so many secondary sources of information (in any context) can also compromise the integrity of an idea. We all remember the game of telephone we played as kids (or currently play with our kids). By the time a phrase gets to the last person it has usually changed in some manner.
When we communicate church teaching, when share scriptural interpretations or insights with others, we certainly ought to do so with the utmost care and precision. We should always think critically about the source and the context of the truth we present and represent to others. The slightest nuance can be significant. So I remind myself just as much as anyone else–before we “retweet,” before we “share,” we should investigate. A lot is riding on getting the important things right, and almost doesn’t count.