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1. The Word: Kavod (Ancient Hebrew)
What it means: "The awareness of the importance of things. Kavod originally was a business term, referring to weights and measures. Over time the word began to take on a more figurative meaning, referring to the importance and significance of something."
When—and how—to use it: "Kavod is what happens when you're exchanging the usual 'How are yous?' with a person you see regularly, only on this particular day she doesn't respond with her normal, 'Fine, and you?' but instead says, 'Not good'—and suddenly everything changes. Now the conversation is no longer brief and shallow like it has been for years, because now it weighs something, it is significant, it matters. She matters; you matter; the fact that she decided to be honest with you matters; the thing that is happening between you matters."
Why Bell believes we need it: "The word is often used in the scriptures to refer to that which happens when the monotony is pierced, the boredom hijacked, the despair overpowered by your sense that something else is going on, something that reminds you of your smallness, frailty, and impermanence. It's that gut-level awareness you're seized by that tells you, 'Pay attention, because this matters.'"
2. The Word: Grenzbegrifflich (German)
What it means: "Grenzbegrifflich describes that which is very real but is beyond analysis and description."
When—and how—to use it: When you confront "those things that you absolutely, positively know to be true but would be hard-pressed to produce evidence for if asked." Such as, "explaining how that particular song moves you or articulating why you fell in love with that person."
Why we need it: "'To believe that there's more going on here, that there may be a reality beyond what we can comprehend—that's something else. That's being open. There are other ways of knowing than only those of the intellect."
3. The Word: Ruach (Ancient Hebrew)
What it means: "An explosive, expansive, surprising, creative energy that surges through all things, holding everything all together and giving the universe its life and depth and fullness."
When—and how—to use it: When we want to "talk about those moments, when an object or gesture or word or event is what it is, but is also more, at the same time, something more." For example: "It was a meal, but it was more than a meal; just as it was a conversation and yet more than a conversation."
Why we need it: "In our modern world, people understand spirit to mean something less real, less tangible, less substantive—something nonphysical, something that may or may not exist. But when the Hebrews spoke of the ruach, they weren't talking about something less real; they were talking about what happens when something becomes more real, right before your eyes...The challenge is for me and you to become more and more the kind of people who are aware of the divine presence, attuned to the ruach, present to the depths of each and every moment."
Next: A word that reminds us how connected we all are