Discovering What Our Discoverer’s Words Were Meant to Mean

by Tom Taffel

By definition, a living language continually changes its words, usage and meaning.  As you will see, Mary Baker Eddy was an inspired wordsmith, prayerfully and patiently choosing her words with meticulous care and deliberation and reflection.  Today, unfortunately, so many of her words fail to communicate the ideas they once conveyed.  Many of her words have lost their meaning and relevance.

I think of Mrs. Eddy’s poems as her prayers.  The seven poems in the Christian Science Hymnal were written over a period of thirty-two years – one of which she revised for twelve years.  If we study them in the context of her time, taking semantics into account, we can unlock the feeling, passion, significance, and affection hidden by today’s technologically driven use of the ever-changing English language.

But as articulate and unequivocal as Mrs. Eddy was, semantics … the change of meaning and use of words – has compromised her precision, intent, and clarity.  For example: “O make me glad for every scalding tear,” has no meaning to us, today, until we realize that in Mrs. Eddy’s day, the word “scalding” simply meant “cleansing.”  Clothes and medical equipment were scalded.  Consider the difference between “cleansing,” tears and “scalding” tears.

Her seven poems found in the Christian Science Hymnal are by far her best and most beloved … and rightly so!  But unfortunately, we have been robbed of their richness, vividness and healing dynamics because her words no longer convey the meaning she envisioned.  So, utilizing a dictionary of her time, (1870’s), I have attempted to restore the original meaning of her words – based on old and somewhat faded definitions.

Sources:
THE STUDENTS REFERENCE DICTIONARY by Dr. Noah Webster, 1847.
THE COMPACT EDITION OF THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY, by Oxford University Press, 1971.
THE RANDOM HOUSE DICTIONARY of the ENGLISH LANGUAGE, The Unabridged Edition, Random House, 1966.

Christ My Refuge
O’er waiting harpstrings of the mind

STRAIN – Song, note or sound.
LOW – Not exalted in thought; in a humble state, grave.
SAD – Heavy, ponderous, weary or tired.  Settled; firmly established in purpose. Steadfast, firm, constant, fixed, strong.
SWEET – Soft or excellent music; pleasing to the ear: melodious, soft, gentle, mild.  In a sound or wholesome condition.
BREATHED – Uttered.
RAPTURED – Transport, ecstasy, extreme joy or pleasure.
KISS – Touch gently, caress, a token of reverence.

Communion Hymn
Saw ye my savior?  Heard ye the glad sound?

BOSOM – Tender affection, kindness, interior.
TEARS – Physical irritation.
GLOOM – Obscurity; partial or total darkness. Cloudiness or heaviness of mind.
FOUNTAIN – Source; first principle or cause.
FOUL – Impure, polluted, obscene, wicked, hateful.
EXALT – To magnify, purify, refine.  To elevate with joy or confidence.
CREED – Any system of principles which are believed or professed.

Feed My Sheep
Shepherd, show me how to go

STUBBORN – Stiff, inflexible, harsh, rough, rugged.
CALLOUS – Hardened in mind; insensible, unfeeling.
BREAST – Repository of consciousness/conscience. Seat of the affections and emotions.
STUPID – Insensible, sluggish.
BARREN – Unproductive; not containing useful ideas, dull.
TEAR – Physical irritation.
TRIUMPH – To be prosperous; to flourish.
LAMBKINS – Innocent or tender child; a little lamb.
TILL – Until – (Verb: to care strive for, take care of, to improve by labor or study).
BEAM – Splendor.

Mother’s Evening Prayer
O gentle presence, peace and joy and power

NESTLING – Young child or bird.
FALTERING – Hesitating, to fall short, fail, lose momentum.
SNARE – Entangling trap which impedes progress and is usually deceptively attractive.
PIT – Whatever ensnares or traps resulting in misery.
FALL – Departure from the faith. Death, to vanish, perish, decline in power, wealth, glory.
NIGH – Near in time and place.  Easy to obtain and learn.  Ready to forgive, aid and defend.
SCALDING – Cleansing.
HOPE – Desire and expectation of obtaining something good.
DISDAIN – Unworthy of notice, care, regard or esteem.
NARROW – Near, extremely precise or close.
FOWLER – Hunter of wild fowl.
PESTILENCE – Corruption or moral disease destructive to happiness.
BREAST – Seat of the affections and emotions.  The repository of consciousness and conscience.

Love
Brood o’er us with Thy sheltering wing

BROOD – To warm and protect.
DOVE –  Innocence.
REED – Person or thing too weak to rely on.  Easily swayed.
STRAIN – Power, authority, note or song.
ROD – Instrument of correction measurement, support.
KISS – Token of reference to touch gently, caress.
CHASTEN – To purify from error.
PRIDE – Inordinate self-esteem; unreasonable conceit of one’s own superiority, talent, beauty, wealth, accomplishments.
SWELLED – To become louder.
LAY – Song, unhallowed, unsatisfied, unspiritual worldly.
STRIFE – Opposition. Struggle for victory.

Christmas Morn
Blest Christmas morn through murky clouds

MURKY – Dark, obscure, gloomy.
REPLETE – Completely filled, full, abundantly provided.
SHADE – Shelter, protection.
GENTLE – Soft, soothing.
BEAM – Unreserved satisfaction pleasure, joy, splendor.
STRIFE – Struggle for victory, contention for superiority.
CRUEL – Causing pain or grief to others in body or mind.
CREED – Any system of principles which are believed or professed.
TAINT – Poison, corruption, infection.
STAY – Support, comfort strength.

Satisfied
It matters not what be thy lot

LOT – That which is given by fate, destiny or chance, hazard, divine determination.
BETIDE – The fate or end of, whatever happens.
STONES – Insensibility, unfeeling, hasty to judgement; to be first to condemn or blame.
SEED – Original first principle.
DARKLING – Obscure, in the dark.
TATTERS – To tear into shreds.
AYONT – Beyond.
THRALL – Slavery.
BREAK – First appearance of light in the morning, pause, interruption.
SATISFIED – To cause the mind to rest in confidence by ascertaining the truth.