I rediscovered a small book someone gave me awhile ago, entitled Live Your Best Life by Writing Your Own Eulogy.* I was browsing through it when my old friend Fran called. She had been my barber before she retired, and years earlier, she was a friend of our son Steve back in the 1980s. Once in a while, she calls and we have weirdly creative phone conversations. I told her about the book and the idea of writing your own eulogy so you can influence the way people remember you after you die.
Fran said, “Your eulogy can be about how holy you are as a pastor.” My response was that I would have to write about being holey, not being holy, because I know about all the holes in my holy life. She thought that was a cool idea and built on the holy/holey comparison a bit. During the next half-hour or so, we developed a preliminary outline of my proposed eulogy.
My mind wouldn’t let go of the interplay between those two words that sound the same but have such opposite meanings. Suddenly it occurred to me that there was a third homophone** —wholly. Holistic medicine (sometimes referred to as wholistic) emphasizes treating the whole person, body soul and spirit, and that’s a very positive approach. But as it relates to my proposed eulogy, whole has a different meaning. It’s the opposite of phony or hypocritical. I’d like to be remembered as genuine, what-you-see-is-what-you-get. The word integrity describes the wholeness I have in mind.
As I was thinking about the three homophones, I began humming the great Christian hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” I tried to turn to other tasks in my office, but my mind kept coming back to those three words that sound alike. I did an online search and found, not surprisingly, that I was not the first person to be fascinated by the holy homophones; there were quite a few poems and sermons and clever blogs. One that impressed me was on a site by a woman named Cindy Barclay. She summarized her personal discovery in this way:
“The Holy God wants holey people to be wholly his! WOW — that’s amazing! He’ll exchange our holey-messy broken lives for his holiness; he’ll transform our holey lives wholly! Can I get a witness?” ***
Yeah, I’ll give you a witness. Thanks to Fran and Cindy for helping me begin to write my eulogy. I’m guided by the meaning of the word eulogy itself — eu (TRUE) + logy (WORDS). Whatever is said about me after I’m gone, I want it to be true.
For the record, I embrace all three meanings as I sing my personal testimony: “HOLEY, HOLY, WHOLLY.”
– Pastor George Van Alstine
* Mimi Emmanuel (Australia: Mosaic House, 2017)
** I thought these were homonyms, but I learned they’re really homophones. In linguistics, a homonym is one of a group of words that share the same spelling and the same pronunciation but have different meanings. A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning.