When Sarah Palin condemned the critics of the National Day of Prayer she boldly exclaimed, “What in hell scares people about talking about America’s foundation of faith?”
For me, hearing “what the hell” in the same sentence as the word “faith” pushed a button that took me way back to my childhood. I could hear my Grandma Pearl admonishing me as she so often did: “The Bible says, ‘Don’t cuss.'”
Grandma Pearl was a petite, powerful and very pious woman. She wore her dresses well below the knee and her uncut hair was always pinned back in a tidy little bun. She sat in the front row every Sunday morning at a little white steepled-church where she taught Sunday school and never missed a Wednesday night prayer meeting.
I was always nervous around Grandma Pearl because she would get pretty riled up about what she called, “the sins of the devil” — smoking, drinking, gambling and cussing. It’s interesting to note that she had five sons, all of whom joined the Navy and, you guessed it, learned to cuss like sailors.
This familiar injunction against having a potty mouth is derived from The Ten Commandments. All this time I thought it simply said, “Don’t cuss.” Come to find out it actually says: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who take His name in vain.”
The first glaring question to ask is: What is God’s name?
If you don’t know what God’s name is, how could you take that name in vain? Off the tip-top of my head I thought God’s name was God. But, now that I think about it, that’s presumptuous and a tad bit absurd. It would be like thinking Brad Pitt’s name is Actor or Shaquille O’Neal’s name is Basketball Player or Grandma’s name is Grandma. What an eye-opener.
Obviously, the Hebrew people were privy to what God’s name was. In order to get in on the secret, you can either flip back a few pages in the Book of Exodus, or you can pop in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 classic movie, The Ten Commandments, and you’ll find the answer for yourself.
As the story goes, one day Moses was out in the field tending sheep, and all of a sudden, he found himself talking to a burning bush that never really burned up. He was having a vision, I guess you could say, and he heard a voice telling him to go tell Pharaoh to free the people. Moses was reluctant. (Wouldn’t you be if you were talking to a bush?) So, Moses said, “Whom shall I say sent me?” The Voice replied, “I AM THAT I AM. Tell them, ‘I AM has sent me.'”
There it is. God’s name is I AM.
So “God” is not God’s name at all. God is what God is. So, if God’s name is I AM, just think how many times a day you are actually saying the name of God. “I AM an actor.” “I AM pleased as punch to meet you.” “I AM eating Oreos for dinner.” “I AM selling my lava lamp to the highest bidder.” “I AM this.” “I AM that.” Your every minutely detailed experience of life is an expression of God.
The next question erupting from this edict is: What does the word vain mean?
One meaning is, “conceited or egotistical” as in, “You’re so vain.” Everybody sing, “I bet you think this song is about you.” Using that definition, this decree would say, “Now that you realize your oneness with the host, don’t walk into the party like you’re walking onto a yacht. Just because of your name, don’t be stuck up about it.”
But another definition of the word vain is “ineffectual, useless or unproductive.” Basically, this commandment says that in taking the name of God, in wearing the name “I AM,” you boldly step into the power of that name and take hold of all the rights and responsibilities that it affords. There is never a time or reason to think, feel or act as if you are useless, ineffectual or unproductive. Your life has meaning because it is sustained and supported by the One Supreme Power.
Far from being a decree against expletives, this commandment is about oneness. It tells us that we all wear a very important and impressive name. We are all members of the number one family in the universe with every resource available to do fantastic things in life for ourselves and for the world. If you don’t realize who you are, if you don’t do anything with everything you have, “Then shame on you,” as Grandma Pearl would say.