Learning to Swear: A Spiritual Discipline (A Guest Post)

I love this piece and I love this girl. It has been an honor to watch her learn to swear.

I learned to swear last summer.

I had tried for a long time, muttering Mumford and Sons under my breath to get used to the taste of the taste of the things I wasn’t supposed to say. I had toyed with four-letter words when I wanted to shock or when I thought them necessary for emphatic effect, but every time the words left my lips, they sputtered with hesitation, a pause that made it clear my words were not my own.

The dam broke when a woman I respected told me I had to learn to swear properly. She stood on a chair and told me to cuss, to rage, to shout at all the things that had stifled my words and stopped up my emotions. At that moment, I realized that, actually, I didn’t have to swear if I didn’t want to, because my words were mine. In realizing I didn’t have to swear, I suddenly could. It wasn’t the words themselves that were stopping me. It was my right to choose them.

It was my agency – my ability to choose my own path, verbally, physically, and emotionally – that had been taken from me.

Agency can be taken from us in a variety of ways. It can be taken by force. It can be taken by illness or addiction. Every subduing of another’s will – physically or emotionally – is a crime of power, and it is wrong.

But our freedom to choose, to speak, to act can also be stolen in much more subtle ways. It can be taken by cutting words that constrict our choices. By ideologies that make obedience, not wisdom, their cornerstone.

These kinds of thefts may not leave physical marks, but their conditioning can leave emotional imprints that reach to our very core. They teach us to own and identify with our powerlessness, our fear, our shame rather than our strength. They break our spirits while claiming to make us whole.

They warp our understanding of freedom, wholeness, health, and beauty until our consciences become our blindest guides.

Unlearning this takes hard work. I shut my eyes tight every time I act in ways that aren’t clearly spelled out in the rule books. I can only do it by holding tight to the arms of friends who won’t let me settle for a pre-scripted life anymore.

I do it by storing up images and items and phrases that make me strong, things that cannot be bent by the pressure of others. Mantras like “I am not wrong,” “that is not OK,” and “I am in charge of my own words” (and my own body, of course, because the two are intertwined) become my strongholds when someone walks over my boundaries or threatens my agency with shame or fear.

Sometimes, it takes a few foul words to begin the long, slow unraveling of a worldview that conforms us to an unhealthy ideal. Honesty and truth can’t always be expressed without allowing their rough edges to show.

But I know there is as much power in a single, honest cry of “fuck that shit” when times are hard as there is in the heartfelt prayers I said growing up.

There is as much holiness, too.

Elizabeth grew up on the more moderate fringes of conservative Christianity in the US, and then explored Europe for five years while she studied abroad. Now, she explores her past, present, and future on http://ellieava.tumblr.com/

5 thoughts on “Learning to Swear: A Spiritual Discipline (A Guest Post)

  1. I’m sorry, but I am confused by this post. I don’t like to say negative things on peoples’ posts, but I feel like perhaps I’m missing the point here. I don’t believe there is any holiness in swearing. I had a Catholic upbringing (won’t even go there), so while I “grew up in the church” I didn’t really. I had no real relationship with Jesus. As a young adult, swearing helped me to vent my anger and frustrations, but I had big issues. The problem was that I had a truck driver mouth, and the more I swore, the less I felt like it was a big deal. I remember being so frustrated with my toddler that I walked down the steps, punching the wall as I went and saying, “Jesus F*%^ing Christ!” That’s NOT okay. When I got saved at 31, the swearing slowly began to fade as I began to deal with my anger in healthy ways, such as 12-step programs, recovery groups, counseling and simply becoming more and more dependent on the Lord. The more I fell in love with Him, the more I realized that He loves me just as I am, even with a truck driver mouth. However,I also realized that if I was going to have the fear of God–a healthy respect for Him, then the swearing could not keep me in His holy place. There is no room for swearing in the Holy of Holies. To say that swearing is okay and holy cheapens the Holy of holies. Biblically speaking, swearing is really making an oath, and cursing is…well, the opposite of blessing. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, or just old, but I think that swearing, esp, the “F” word is quite vulgar, and sounds trashy coming from a woman. That is not to say I never swear/curse. I do fall back into it quite easily when I’m angry or frustrated, because it was a habit for so long. But I always regret it. And repent of it. Again, maybe I missed the point here, but I think it’s dangerous to assume that it’s okay to learn to swear/curse because it will become a habit and bad habits only become worse. Thanks for letting me respond. I felt I needed to make my position known on this.

    • Hi Mary, I think you have a VERY different relationship with swearing than the author of this piece. The story that you have with swearing isn’t hers. It sounds like you were using swears to disconnect from your heart and emotion and your understanding of God and your relationship with him. This author explains that she used rules to do the same thing. By breaking the “rules” she found her heart and voice. And I think it is appropriate to use strong language when there are strong things happening, especially when it comes to spiritual abuse, I think it is GOOD to say F that shit.

      • Perhaps I don’t know the whole story. For me it was never about rules. I came from the opposite end of the “religious spectrum” where there were no rules as far as I was concerned. I did what I wanted. For me it was a heart thing as well, but I was convicted on how it grieved God to hear me talk that way. I enjoy your posts; however, I will agree to disagree on this one. The beauty of blogging is that everyone is entitled to their own opinions and nobody can tell you what to post and what not to post. Blessings

  2. Pingback: Five [Awesome] Things I Read This Week, 11.15.2014 | Pink-Briefcase

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