Many English words are so close in meaning that they often require explanation after use. For example, I have an issue with the word loyalty yet I have no problem saying I am devoted to someone or something. Faith, Loyalty and Devotion are often linked as closely as siblings in the Etymological family. The latter suggests to me an action of giving one’s self over, sometimes completely and with willful intent. I am devoted to my wife, I am faithful as a result of that intention, yet my loyalty has limits. That can seem strange yet in context it’s consistent.
The conundrum of these three value words is well expressed in the love song, ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You’ made famous by Olivia Newton John in the film Grease. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i52mlmJtyJQ . In my defining way the word Devoted in this song is more like Loyalty. From my past experience, when the head is separated from the heart, decisions are fraught with danger. In my lexicon Loyalty, certainly the blind type, is foolish. I have faith that when both my emotion and my thinking are involved I can permit clear sighted devotion.
Having a career requires a certain level of devotion. Those training to be Olympic athletes would need the highest level of devotion to their goal. Equally, someone who wishes to master a musical instrument might say they are devoted to their art. I have worked with some teachers who exhibited this extreme level of devotion. It’s inspiring to see that high level of passion or devotion. There are many examples in history of religious figures who followed a calling and thus devoted their lives to a cause. That level of devotion moves too close to zealotry for my liking. A devout person I am not, for that means a willingness to forsake all else in an adherence to a defined path.
Whether in religious practise or other areas of a full life, I avoid thinking of myself as a devotee. Likewise I resist calling myself a fan of something or someone. Both terms suggest a slavery to a cause, or an overwhelming commitment to an idea. When we get ourselves so wrapped up in something that we lose sight of our original intention, we can move across the border from carefully considered thought into hopeless obsession.
During my church years I met many who espoused the practice of daily devotions. Some on the zealot end of the spectrum would rise at the same time each morning to follow their routine. Others saw value in spending a few minutes each day with an activity that centred their busy minds. These activities don’t need to be of a religious or scriptural nature. I have found reward in a singular moment gazing intently at a bee as it wiggles through a cluster of sweet flowers. Or, devoting time to listen to what my wife has to say when she returns home from an adventure makes me feel closer to her and brings me the peace I desire.