My alarm goes off before dawn and I lay there for a moment, staring at the ceiling fan. My first appointment isn’t until 9 am, but life begins much earlier. I shower and dress and pack my tablet into my backpack. This morning I will grab a coffee and write.
As I head to the car, I think about the power of words. One of the first things we discuss in my freshman composition class is the difference between the denotative and connotative meanings of words. The denotative meaning is the dictionary definition, and the connotative meaning is all the associated baggage that comes along with the word. Whenever individuals have emotional reactions to a word, they are reacting to the connotative meaning.
At Starbucks, I add a little half and half and a couple packets of sweetener to my steaming cup of coffee. I give the concoction a stir as I consider words that have impacted me. Bipolar is one. The day I received my diagnosis, the connotative meanings of that word hit me like a freight train. But that’s only one of many. Sometimes we resist words because their connotative meanings seem to box us into a definition that doesn’t quite fit. Many people feel that way about gender pronouns or the racial identification boxes found on applications and surveys. I have always struggled with religious definitions and spiritual identification.
I have studied the fundamentals of many religious and spiritual beliefs, but my convictions never fit in any of the dogmatic boxes. I noted the similarities and embraced the common ground of the various spiritual teachers, but I could not claim to be a Christian, Buddhist, or a modern-day witch. I believe in a higher, creative force, but I hesitate to call it God, simply because the connotative meaning (with its inherent gender bias) doesn’t seem to fit the vast intricacy of such a universal force. Then, this year, I discovered a new word.
Omnist. The Oxford Living Dictionary defines an omnist as: “A person who believes in all faiths or creeds; a person who believes in a single transcendent purpose or cause uniting all things or people, or the members of a particular group of people.” The earliest known use of the word is found in a poem by Philip J Bailey written in 1872: “I am an omnist, and I believe in all /Religion . . .” Finally! A word that fit!
Although definitions can sometimes feel like little boxes that don’t adequately express the complexity of who we are, the lack of definition can often feel alienating. Who are we? Where do we belong? We all crave connection. We all want to be understood. With one little word, omnist, I can express what I believe and find others who feel the same.
Bailey, Philip James (1872). Festus: a poem (3rd ed.). University of California Libraries: James Miller. p. 186. Retrieved 30 June 2017.