Juneau's winter weather adds life to old phrase, 'Lord willing'

Posted: Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I have started using a new vocabulary, thanks to the heavy snow this winter. Are you ready for a little Latin? Deo Volente is Latin for "Lord willing." This response was once in common usage recognizing the contingent nature of our plans. In Arabic, there is a common response to almost any question. It is Inchallah which can be loosely translated "If God wills." But Inchallah does not mean "maybe." Inchallah is a form of commitment-a contingent commitment. Both sayings recognize that we live in a world where all things are willed by God, and fully understood only by God, we are faced with much uncertainty: the unexpected sometimes occurs, and we should not be so overconfident as to claim control of our time or even control of the future. Inchallah is meant to remind us of this contingency. Were we to translate it fairly, we would need several phrases: "provided all goes well, and that the unexpected does not occur, I will fulfill the commitment you have asked for, expecting no blame from you if I cannot deliver, and not blaming you if you cannot deliver." Inchallah" or "Deo Volente" is a vow of humility. It reminds me that I am not God and it allows God to be God for me.

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The contingent nature of our lives can be a rather frustrating experience for those of us who aren't so accustomed to thinking of the world, and of our future, as products of a super-human will. To those ears the expression "Lord willing" can sound like an intention to flake, to default, and to avoid promises. To the critic it can be seen as a refusal to commit, a defense against blame or guilt. Now in many ways, this "Lord willing" business is rather pragmatic-the truth is that we do not have total control and that unexpected events do occur. Actually, we all take these contingencies into account, making room for the unexpected: an accident that cancels a meeting, a reversal in fortune, a weather delay that causes a change in plans.

So while we universally recognize the contingent nature of life, different cultures adopt different means of expressing it, of weaving it into daily life. Here in Juneau, the winter weather has us talking about our local and distant travel plans, or certainly any outdoor activity as "weather dependent." Might we start saying, and also thinking of our future plans in the religious terms of "Lord willing, Deo Volente, Inchallah" It has helped me these last few weeks to gain a better appreciation of just how contingent on the Lord's blessing so many of my plans really are. Even the best laid out plans are bound to change. In the change, may we all be open to the working of God in our lives. I have found that in my life those times my plans have changed or been interrupted, if I look carefully I can see the work of God there. Those opportunities are God's gift and method to guide me back to the task or relationship that God would have me get involved with. So when things change, I pay close attention.

May God Bless you abundantly in the New Year, Whatever your plans may be.

• Friar Thomas J. Weise is the cathedral rector at the Cathedral of the Nativity.

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