What’s Good About Good Friday? by Barbara Ardinger

Barbara ArdingerI grew up Calvinist and Republican in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. My parents belonged to—but rarely attended—Immanuel Evangelical & Reformed Church in Ferguson, Missouri. When children reached the age of twelve, they were “confirmed” in the church, which meant taking a Bible class taught by the minister, Rev. Press, and then going through a ceremony that made them eligible to take communion, which in that church was grape juice and tasteless crackers. Transubstantiation? I learned what the word meant, but I had (and still have) no idea if it really happens.

Ascension by John Singleton Copley (1775)

Ascension by John Singleton Copley (1775)

I’ve always been one to ask untidy questions, so of course I asked a lot of questions in confirmation class. God tells us half a dozen times in the Old Testament, for example, that he is a “jealous god.” How, I asked Rev. Press, can a jealous god be a loving god? What’s good about a jealous god? (A couple decades later, when I was studying the Aramaic Bible as translated by George M. Lamsa from the Pshitta manuscripts, I learned that the correct word is “zealous.” That was no help. I still don’t see much good in either jealousy or zealotry.) A week or two later, I asked Rev. Press, “What’s good about Good Friday?” Shortly thereafter, my mother advised me to stop asking questions in confirmation class. (Can we assume she’d received a pastoral phone call?)

Flash forward a few decades to when I was writing Pagan Every Day, which the publisher mis-titled because it’s a daybook in which I wrote about holy days, holidays, and saints from many of the standard-brand religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Baha’i, Zoroastrianism, and Islam—as well as pagan pantheons and holy days. (It’s also the book in which I declare Miss Piggy to be The Goddess Of Everything.) About that time, I somehow made friends via email with a member of the staff of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which defines every word in the English language and gives both etymologies and chronological examples of usage from the day the word entered the language to the present. When the OED was still in print, it was twenty extremely thick volumes. I used to fantasize about having it on a shelf in my living room. English has the biggest vocabulary of any language on the planet, so now the OED has outgrown book form and is only on line.

When I needed a good definition for something I was writing, therefore, I’d send a note to my friend at the OED. She’d send me a link, and I’d print the definition. I learned a lot. The full definition of “god” in the OED printed out to eighteen pages. The word comes originally from the Old Teutonic guðo. Part of the definition of “god” is “a superhuman person (regarded as masculine) who is worshiped as having power over nature and the fortunes of mankind….” The chronological examples of how the word was and is used start with a quotation (alle godas) from an Old English psalter dated 825. In Old English, “god” was spelled godu, got, goð, and guð. The word “god” looks and sounds very much like the word “good,” which has been spelled gód, gode, godd, and goode.

The full definition of “goddess” is one page long. The first definition is “a female deity in polytheistic systems of religion.” Variant spellings, from about 1340 to about 1600, are goodesse, godesse, goddes, goddis, and goddace.

My friend at the OED and I had some interesting conversations. When I made a wisecrack about the comparative lengths of the two definitions, she replied that the OED’s creators (both men and women) gathered linguistic evidence. The disparity, she said, is not linguistic but social and historical. Yep. It’s more evidence of the social and historical pervasiveness of the patriarchy.

“Good Friday” first appeared in English in the 13th century. So here’s my theory about what’s good about Good Friday. Nothing. Nothing is good about a day that appears to celebrate—with appropriate solemnity, of course—the torture and death of a human being. Human sacrifice is not good. But pax, my friends. Peace. I think people just elided the words “god” and “good” and it’s really God’s Friday. We still substitute “good” for “god,” as in “for goodness sake” and OMG = Oh My Goodness, and we know of minced forms of oaths and ejaculations that have been common since Shakespeare’s time—“golly,” “gosh,” “gad,” “gog,” “ods” (as in “ods bodkins,” which means “God’s body”), even “cocks.”

As I wrote in Pagan Every Day, let us therefore make every day of the year a godu, got, goð, guð, goodesse, godesse, goddes, goddis, goddace day.

Frigga

Frigga from Order of the White Moon

 

 

Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic.  Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations.  When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.



Categories: Christianity, God, Goddess, Naming, Paganism

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

20 replies

  1. And though publishers now don’t automatically downgrade Goddess to a small g, they usually favor gods and goddesses not being capitalized, a monotheistic preference.

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  2. I spent some time in the Catholic Church when I was young, my own choice, seeking some sort of depth of spirituality. I met some great priests and nuns and they and the daily masses I attended for a number of years deepened my life profoundly, especially as regards compassion, which the sight of the cross always evoked. Later I connected with a tremendous depth in Eastern spirituality, Zen and Taoism. Christianity was like the seed that had to crack open first underground in order to rebirth, whereas Eastern Spirituality was more a celebration of the gift of life — the lotus flowering.

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  3. I especially enjoyed all the information about and from the OED. Thanks for a lively informative post!

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  4. Great read! Once more your fascination with words has awakened my own! God’s Friday! Perfect!

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  5. Sorry the Reverend wasn’t more open about “Good Friday.” I recall many conversations with the various nuns while I attended Catholic School right before Easter break where we discussed that exact question…what is good about Good Friday? We always came to the conclusion that sacrifice for what you truly believe in, truly love, is a good thing. I don’t recall the discussion covering torture and death – just sacrifice for one’s ideals and the betterment of the individual and community.

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    • I think Christians have always struggled with the execution of Jesus of Nazareth and how to understand it. I’ve heard many explanations of meaning…some better than others. I think much depends on our image of the divine, and our historical background of religion, ritual, etc. What we know of Roman crucifixion is a reality of torture, degradation, death. What meaning we find in it, depends …

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  6. Thanks for starting my day with a chuckle, Barbara. Asking “why” and exploring things must go with our name!

    I hate the title “Good Friday” for the reason you mention. As if the Creator took pleasure in suffering and death, or required it to satisfy for “sin”. If Jesus expects me to forgive others I think “his father” should do the same. “Justice” is not about satisfying an angry god, but about caring for each other and the rest of creation….imnsho!

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  7. I was reading through my grandfather’s big dictionary one day and came to the part that lists and defines people’s names. “Barbara” means “strange, foreign, different.” It’s related, obviously, to the word “barbarian.” I learned this in the second grade. And yes, I still ask “why” about a lot of things. It keeps getting me into trouble.

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  8. YOU GO GIRL! Keep on asking those “untidy questions,” Barbara! There are many more of those “untidy questions” to be asked! And some of us, like you, who keep on asking them. You might enjoy my blogs http://sisterlea.wordpress.com/ God Rogue Going Rogue and http://whomegod.wordpress.com/ Who God is Not. Happy Spring!

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  9. thanks for sharing your curiosity about words and faith. you certainly brighten my day!

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  10. So if I understand you right, you are arguing that there is nothing good about Good Friday and in fact the name itself comes from a mistake in the English language, a confusion between god and good. But if G-d is good generally speaking then are you saying the same thing by calling it G-d’s Friday? You would have to mean that G-d is not good in order to get around the idea that human sacrifice is wrong and still be able to all it G-d’s Friday. Am I missing something here?

    (It is interesting to note that in many other languages Good Friday is actually called Holy Friday (in Spanish and Italian at least).

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  11. I agree with you theologically, Ivy, about God’s Friday–either Jesus is God and it is his day because he was sacrificed or God himself was involved somehow, etc.

    Now that you mention it, in Greece we also do not speak of “good” Friday, rather Christians call all the days leading up to Easter big or great days–in the case of Friday “megali paraskevi.” Paraskevi means “preparation” so it seems the day of the week is named as the day of “preparation” for the resurrection on kyriaki, “the Lord’s day.”

    So no matter how you look at it, in Greek, both Friday and Sunday refer to the “theodrama” the death and resurrection of God the Son in relation to God the Father, his Mother, and the Christian community.

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  12. What I mean is that no matter what you call the day and who you worship or honor, have a nice day.

    Carol, I really like the idea of the days before a holiday being called “preparation days.” That makes a lot of sense. Thanks for adding this to the discussion.

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  13. Very nice article, Barbara! My parents were asked to keep me out of Sunday School [Methodist] by the time I was 7. ;)

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  14. I was raised Catholic through twelve years of parochial schooling. I frequently was told to stop asking questions. Thank the Goddess I didn’t pay attention.

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