During the recent Advent season, a group of budding theologians decided to blog each day using various swear words and melancholic expressions. F**k This Sh*t gave voice to those trying to express themselves in authentic and raw ways. As the editors note on their page, “To convey a visceral Gospel, we must sometimes use visceral language.”
To many of us, 2016 was a terrible year. A cloud dangled over the world, from the distressing bigotry, to this year’s demoralizing election cycle, to genocide in Aleppo. If tragedy wasn’t happening to us, we knew it was happening to our neighbors.
Hearing profanity can make you wonder if it is morally wrong or has cathartic value.
We ask ourselves, “What are the best ways to lament in seasons so dismal? Could profanity be the means for us to move from a period of deep melancholy to one in which we are free to dream?”
Sometimes, a cathartic purging of emotion is one in which we can move to a new place in our lives. Psalm 142 notes that David pours out his heart to God through his song saying, “With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I make supplication to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him” (verses 1-2, NRSV). During his perilous time, David empties his soul to God.
If we empty ourselves in front of God with the words that best reflect our souls – even if they are unconventional prayer words—we may be able to transcend what holds us back.
Swearing in front of God may be something that reflects a level of intimacy with God that is only reserved for those closest to us. Wouldn’t the Divine want us to have a relationship with us in which we can say anything that is on our hearts? Wouldn’t God want us to name our greatest pain with words that best describes it?
If we don’t look at swearing as if it’s misusing God’s name, but instead expressing our greatest laments to God, we may be able to ease some of our emotional and spiritual pain. Additionally, studies show using profane words can reduce physical pain. In 2009, Keele University published a study notating that those who swear “could endure pain 50% longer than civil-tongued peers.”
When I refer to swearing I am absolutely not speaking of words that denigrate another race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, or ethnicity. Using these words never helps us grow with God or neighbor. Additionally, if one speaks profanity, the more responsible choice is to speak these words with mature people you trust the most—not people you mentor, parent, or have power over.
While swearing isn’t acceptable in every circumstance, it may be a tool that God has given us to bear discomfort, abide in the wilderness, and grow closer to the Divine in the process. Swearing in the presence of God may help us move from a place of anguish to hope.
Rev. Michelle L. Torigian is the pastor of St. Paul United Church of Christ, Old Blue Rock Road in Cincinnati, Ohio. Prior to ministry, Torigian worked in fundraising and marketing for nonprofits as her previous career. She graduated from Eden Theological Seminary in 2010. Torigian is the author of a number of articles on the Huffington Post Religion page including “Between Childless and Childfree,” a reflection for Mother’s Day. Recently, her essay “Always the Pastor, Never the Bride” was published in the book “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” (Skylight Paths Publishing, 2015). Torigian regularly posts her musings on current events, justice issues, pop culture, and theology at www.michelletorigian.com.