By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Monday, April 5, 2010

From Context to "Extext"

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (the shorter version, which is, very handy, if you do not wish to buy the very large twenty-volume full version for your home library; the shorter version still gives many of the famous historical examples of word usage), the word "context" derives from the Latin meaning "to weave together." The prefix "con" generally means "with" from the Latin "cum." The derivation fits our intuitive sense of the word. The context is what surrounds and accompanies our lives. We all live in a context. In my opinion, much of life's progress depends on our readiness and boldness in changing the various contexts of our lives. Many of you can think of your recent or long ago immigrant ancestors as good examples: they radically changed the contexts of their lives for the better.

A good exercise in this Easter season of new beginning is to itemize the various contexts in which we live our lives, and then to ask which ones should be changed or replaced with a new context. What we leave behind is a former context, something that remains part of our history (we cannot erase real factual events) but is no longer relevant as living context. We no longer live together with a context that we have abandoned; it is no longer woven into the very texture of our lives. So let's make up a new word for an abandoned context (in other words, let's find a neologism).

If a context is something woven with our lives, then the opposite may be called an alliterative "extext"--something woven out, taken out, of our lives (from the Latin "ex" meaning "out of" or "from"). What do you want to make an "extext" in your life this Easter season? Many examples from the complexities of life are at hand:

1. Is your life chained to some kind of addiction? Certainly, harmful addictions should become "extexts" so that they no longer govern our personal stories and harm ourselves or others.

2. Have you suffered great wrong a long time ago, or more recently, that still casts a shadow over your life? How can we make such injuries "extexts" that are no longer woven into our daily experiences and reactions to life and others? Certainly, forgiveness is a necessary key recommended by our Christian tradition. But in many serious cases, even forgiveness can still leave us suffering from the after-effects of past injuries, as must be true with victims of abuse whose plight is now, finally, receiving long overdue attention.

Certainly, the more serious the harm, the more professional and wise psychological counseling is needed. I certainly do not mean to flippantly seek to replace such necessary and essential approaches. Yet, many of us can change our toxic contexts by simply becoming more aware and conscious of such contexts in the first place and then explicitly deciding to abandon them, to make them "extexts."

Try the context inventory, and see what has to become an "extext." Prayer, Scripture, sacraments, and your local church community are there to help you in that process. And there certainly are wise and professional spiritual directors, psychologists, and others who can assist as appropriate, either directly or through their writings. Such sources of counsel can include even one's mature friends.