Who’s afraid of catachresis?

Here’s the update I promised: I quit.

Thursday afternoon marked the 3-and-a-half-days point of not looking at myself in a mirror; and Thursday afternoon, I was relieved to be released from the self-inflicted rule that had been (quite surprisingly) a source of substantial stress for a few days.

When I texted my friend (who is aiming for the full 25 days w/o mirrors for a class project) to ask if she would be seriously disheartened if I called it quits, her reply seemed so fitting: “No – be free!”

Be free.

Even though my joint participation in her experiment only lasted a measly 3-and-a-half days, I don’t think it was a wasted effort. One of the reasons for this is that I saw some parallels between my experience and a few things in the Bible about following Jesus.

One thing from Scripture that I was reminded of during this experiment was a passage in James 1:22-25. It states: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”

Among other things, there is an analogy drawn in this passage between a mirror and the word of God. And my 3-and-a-half days experiment made me think: if it was difficult and stressful for me to go even one day without looking in a mirror for my natural face and self, isn’t it also undesirable for me to go one day without looking in the mirror of Scripture for my spiritual self? Yet how often do I do this and not think much of it?? Convicting.

A second connection I drew between the no-mirror thing and my life as a follower of Christ had to do with the law of the Old Testament and old covenant (before Jesus came and made a new covenant) and sin. Romans 7:7-13 talks about the law itself being good, but by its standards, making clear what was bad, or what was sin. I was not nearly as conscious of the act of looking in a mirror until I made a “rule” for myself not to. And it didn’t become “bad” or “wrong” for me to do so until that rule was in place. In the same sort of way, the law was provided so that people might be able to recognize sin, and their captivity to it. The statement of the “rules” makes us conscious of how much we break them.

Galatians 3:19-25 also explains “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed [Jesus] should come to whom the promise was made…the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.”

This last part, “we are no longer under a tutor,” is referring to the freedom people have from the obligations of the law after they put their faith in Christ, and receive salvation through him who perfectly fulfilled the law but still died in our place (and rose again! Don’t want to neglect that part), rather than from trying to fulfill the law themselves.

Now there’s more to the story than that, and even what I did try to explain was not done perfectly. My friend’s exhortation releasing me from the rule, or law, of no mirrors, “be free,” reminded me of this bit, however, and I wanted to try to convey that it was a reminder that, in Christ, I have freedom-not that I am not still obligated to be holy. (In fact, 1 Peter  1:15-16 exhorts Christians, “as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’“) But I don’t have to try and be holy myself-my righteousness comes from Christ instead of from myself, and there is grace when I do stumble. Freedom.

My friend’s text also released me from the temptation I had felt at first to feel guilty for throwing in the towel on this one somewhat early. I also realized that I didn’t have a clear objective in the experiment, other than it sounded kind of interesting, and I felt like trying it out along with my friend, at least for a bit. (I think I also had some vague notions of “decreased vanity” and “lessened stress” mixed up in there somewhere, too, but I think the opposite ended up happening, if anything…)

BUT, the day that I quit the short-lived abstention from mirrors trial, I also had an intense (in an honorific sense) class session for my senior seminar (the equivalent of the class my friend is doing her 25 day no mirror stint for).

The professor challenged us to think honestly about a few questions. First of all, he asked us how committed we are, if at all, to learning and incorporating new words into our vocabulary on a daily basis. And then he asked us, if we weren’t, why not?

Why not?

Some of the reasons that came up in the ensuing discussion from classmates were similar to some of my own: the fear of appearing pretentious, the fear of going home and interacting with people we’ve known most of our lives and having them think we’ve become arrogant or are trying to flaunt our education, the fear of committing the act of catachresis (a word I’ve learned since Thursday) and looking stupid…basically, it all boiled down to a fear of other people, of apparent failure, of spoiled appearances…ahhh! (If I had been making it more of a point to increase my vocab before this, I’d probably have a better word to finish that last sentence with instead of “ahhh!” But sometimes words just aren’t sufficient-yet we use them anyway! This connects back to my initial post on this blog, and the quote that inspired its name.)

One other thing that has stopped me in the past from diligently seeking to learn and apply new words in my everyday use of language is simply laziness. Lack of discipline.

It would take a lot of discipline to not look in a mirror for 25 days. I think, however, for my purposes (including some of those behind this blog) it would be a much more productive use of my time if I were to concentrate such discipline on augmenting the store of words that are a regular part of my speech and writing instead. The idea of economy with words, and exercising more precision and care with the use of language then I’m currently accustomed to has been on my mind lately, anyway. And, too, my discipline muscle could use some stretching.

So, again, I come to that same question that helped me finally start a blog (sorry for the perhaps overly recurring motif) in the first place: Why not?

Why not take up Dr. Davis on his challenge to consciously work towards an increased discovery and employment of new words? (New to me, that is. There are many words that I’ve yet to become well acquainted with, I’m sure, that are old; old, and rich in their oldness, and in the complexity of their life and development as a word so far…)

I am sure I will commit catachresis numerous times in this endeavor. I already do as it is. But I’d like to try to rise to my professor’s challenge and make an attempt to follow some of the methods he suggested to work on building active vocabulary…at least for 25 days. It’s worth the proverbial shot.



  1. Bekah I found your blog enjoyable (wish I too had a big word to put here) I appreciate your honesty and your depth/insight into things. Your blog stetches my brain muscle in a great way. Love you


  2. I should say that the title for this post was inspired by a book title, “Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism”-I got the book for a class and have yet to read it; nonetheless, the title immeditately intrigued me and, evidently, stuck in my imagination.


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