When words are allowed to weaken, they may need to be re-charged. After all language, as well as being out there, is within. When a valuable word becomes softened something is diminished within us: a meaning that might be precious. Take the word ““comfort” or its cognate “comfortable”. We say to “live in comfort” and we mean to live at ease, in comparative prosperity. “Comfortable” we may associate through advertising and colour supplements with furniture: a comfortable sofa. “Are you sitting comfortably, then I will begin!” reminds us of being young children, listening to a story.
It may surprise you then to hear that the word originates from the Latin fortis meaning “with strength”. To give strength, to give encouragement to, is its verbal meaning, widening to being a source of solace, relief or support in distress or affliction.
It is the emphasis on strengthening or solace that tends to be its Biblical meaning. So the quotation, in the heading, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people ” is from the prophecy of Isaiah (Is, 40: 1-2). You may well have come across this use of the word from the stirring Handel aria of that name from the oratario The Messiah . Dr Patrick Sookhedo of the Barnabas Charity for persecuted Christians writing in the Charity Newsletter adds a further dimension to our understanding of the word.
“the Hebrew word is nachamu …..Its literal meaning is “to cause to breathe again”, letting ones breath out in relief. It is an emotionally charged word that certainly includes the idea of consolation in grief… But it means more . It also describes a process of learning to think differently about a situation. A rabbi explains : ” Comfort begins when we can re-frame the immediate pain of a loss in a larger, more encompassing way”.
All of which suggests in using the word we should think less of material and physical benefit, more of spiritual strengthening. For finding ” comfort” as spiritual strengthening may lead to a deeper, wider understanding of your affliction and encouragement to face the future with renewed determination.