We all think we know what that means, don't we?
It's the arm slipped around your shoulders when you are hurt or grieving; the soft words of solace. It may be physical, as a warm quilt is placed around you; as you are led towards a sofa, and your hand is gently held. * Comfort is consolation in times of trouble.
Comfort is ease. In the words of an old-fashioned advertising brochure (I believe for a horse drawn carriage – which just shows how old-fashioned it is), "Four persons may travel in perfect comfort." We talk of our bed being comfortable. We speak of a comfortable relationship or a comfortable silence. In this context, we mean that the bed does not poke us in our tender places; our relationship springs no surprises; the silence does not demand words to fill the emptiness. Comfort has no awkwardness, confrontations or demands.
But if that is all we think of "Comfort", then we do it less than justice.
Now, please bear with me. Remember that I am a writer and that words are my language (ahem).
The word "comfort" used to mean far more than it does now.
If we go back to the etymology of the word, we see it is made up of the Latin "con/com" – meaning much or greatly, and "fortis", meaning to strengthen.
So, to "comfort" is better expressed as to "encourage" or "inspire".
The Bayeux Tapestry tells the story of the invasion of England by William the Conqueror. In one panel, a bishop is seen laying about a group of reluctant soldiers with the flat of his sword. The caption says: "Bishop Odo comforts the troops." Hmmm – a strange kind of comfort we may think!
But in the bible Jesus says to his disciples (John 14:16), "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever." This is normally assumed to be the Holy Spirit, which (who) alighted upon the disciples at Pentecost, changing them from terrified, cowering individuals into a force which changed the world (for good or ill is your own view). That force is hardly one which uses soft cushions and comfy chairs!
Today I asked my friend of "longest standing" to be my comforter. I poured my heart out to her and said: "I need you to be straight with me. Am I being stupid?"
She was straight. She was firm. She was enormously encouraging. But she presented me with a challenge. She was my "comfort".
I need to rise to that challenge. And it is hard. One day, I may be able to share with you just how hard.
In the meantime, I wish you comfort. Not the cosy comfort of the easy chair, but the robust comfort of encouragement – and the force to face what you prefer to ignore. May you rise to it!
A Moodscope member.
*And at this point I am irrepressibly reminded of Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition torture sketch: "Cardinal Fang – fetch the comfy chair!" http://bit.ly/2fYiyze ; I am sorry for it – but there it is!