I’m always interested in words and was delighted to learn something entirely new about a word I’ve used often. I’m assuming that if you are reading my blog, you are a word-lover too.
On a recent eight-day retreat I attended (on Zoom), the first teaching focused on the word “sincere”. If asked prior to this, I suppose my meaning of the word was something like “I really mean it” or “what I’m saying is true” or even “from the heart.” But I learned on retreat that the older meaning is “unbroken”. And that meaning has a story.
In Roman times, potters were so good at fixing broken pots with wax that from the outside one couldn’t tell there had been cracks in them. But if one looked inside the pot, the wax was apparent and one knew it had been broken before. In those times, sincere meant literally, “unwaxed” and thus literally “unbroken.” Such an unexpected etymology of this word!
When I apply that meaning to the spiritual journey, being sincere means that the way I present myself on the outside is no different from what is true on the inside. Sincerity then is being authentic. No brokenness of saying one thing but meaning another. No false flattery. No trying to be other than that which you really are. Some would add “Warts and all.” But I could also say that it’s harder sometimes to tell the truth about yourself “no matter how beautiful it is.” (A quote from spiritual writer, Macrina Wiedeker.) It is another way of saying that when I’m sincere I’m truthful. Yet that is only half the meaning— it is truth with kindness. As one teacher said, “It’s soft honesty.”
I am taking this meaning of the word, “sincere” now as almost a divining rod that guides my words and actions when I am aware. Am I really being sincere when I say that? When I choose that? When I think that?
That inquiry brings me home to myself. A long journey for the soul, but one I’m sincerely willing to take.