In a nod to gender-neutral language, Representative Emanuel Cleaver II concluded his opening prayer for the launch of the 117th Congress with the words “amen and awoman.” While it sounds like the kind of joke I might make, the fact is the congressman may have been seriously attempting to be inclusive.The term amen’s origins are from the Hebrew root for the word “Emunah,” which means faith or belief. It is a gender-neutral term. Reciting Amen to a prayer or blessing demonstrates a statement of affirmation. Judaism teaches that when a leader says a blessing, and the congregation responds, “Amen,” it is as if the entire community has fulfilled the mitzvah of saying the blessing. When Jews cannot recite an entire Hebrew prayer, a simple amen might suffice.
In American English, the word “amen” has two pronunciations, ah-men or ay-men. The ah-men pronunciation is the one that is used in performances of classical music and churches with more formalized rituals and liturgy. The ay-men pronunciation is associated with evangelical Christianity and the pronunciation that is typically sung in gospel music.
The great 15th-century philosopher Adar Banal explained the term as follows. He said the congregation’s real purpose is to combat the idea that God is merely in the heavens above. God also dwells within you and me and makes the Divine presence known through the acts of our hands, the impulses of our hearts, and the healing nature of our deeds. To say Amen and not to act is meaningless. A passionate Amen requires that we get up from our prayers and work in our world according to the high ideals expressed.
Thus for our elected officials, we pray:
May you never let an Amen pass your lips without being followed by actions that unify and heal our fractured nation.
May your actions serve all of our citizenry’s needs regardless of ethnicity, faith, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, or political affiliation.
May this Congress, rather than paying lip service to our Constitution and founding fathers’ highest ideals, strive to serve its citizenry as one nation, under God, indivisibly enacting liberty and justice for all.
Then indeed, we will conclude with a hearty AMEN.