‘Amen’ is from the Hebrew, and simply means ‘faith’. As the closing word of a prayer, what we mean by ‘amen’ is that we have the faith that what we have prayed for will happen: that it will ‘come to pass’. So we can say that ‘amen’ is a way of saying ‘let it be so’. The word becomes a kind of seal affixed to the conclusion of a document: a pact of faith. But as can happen with words which have become familiar through much repetition, this simple word turns out to have hidden and unexpected depths.
In Hebrew ‘amen’ is spoken as ‘AMN’, without the extra vowel – which also is the identical same name as the principal Egyptian god Amun, which also would have been spoken as ‘AMN’. It is our own modern usage which supplies the extra letter. Think of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun, who had the god’s name incorporated into his own. Now think of the name Moses, so familiar from the Torah and the Old Testament. It sounds so typically Ancient Hebrew – until we remember the name of such a pharaoh as Thutmoses. Tradition tells us that Moses was an adept of the Egyptian mystery schools during the years of Hebrew exile. Two cultures which might at first seem remote from each other would seem to have more in common than we might imagine, and in uttering ‘Amen’ at the conclusion of a prayer we might actually be invoking the blessings of an ancient god.
But ‘AMN’ has another echo. It also is very close in sound to the Sanskrit word ‘AUM’ (also written as ‘OM’ or OHM’). ‘AUM’ is not so much a word as a sound, an expression of the soul, of the Self, and apart from its use in meditation, also is affixed as a written symbol at the conclusion (and sometimes also at the beginning) of a passage of sacred text. To package up these ancient cultures, to imagine them sealed off from each other, is to ignore the flow of ideas and beliefs that travelled the trade routes of the Ancient World as much as did the spices and other material trade goods.
When thought of as a sound, this simple word AMN/AUM would seem to be a powerful affirmation indeed: so powerful that the mere voicing of it could in some mysterious way actually help to call into being that which we wish for. And what we wish for, in the end, is simple peace of heart. We wish for something, whatever that ‘something’ happens to be, to ‘turn out right in the end’. To open our hearts to a sacred sound is in a way to enter sacred space, to open the door to possibilities provided to us when we make ourselves receptive to them. And when ‘amen’ is spoken from the heart, then what is spoken before it takes wing, and all shall be well.
Have faith. Let it be so. Amen.