The Gift of Language Barriers
We often think of differing languages as “barriers.” I remember, as a child, reading my children’s Bible storybook and scowling at the pretentious builders of the Tower of Babel. I was angry, not at their sin, but at the consequences thereof: that there are innumerable languages in the world, and this complicated my life with more difficulty and inconvenience.
But this week, as I worked with the students at my internship (I teach English in a school for adult immigrants and refugees), I realized the resonant beauty within these language differences. The students at this school speak a vast array of languages, most of which I’d never known existed before this summer. And yet, they have found friends and formed the most joyful community at this school.
I realize now that learning another person’s language is inherently an act of deep love.
It’s a painful effort rooted in the need for humans to connect with one another. Each time I flounder through my meager Spanish with my students, I express my love to them in trying to communicate with them; they express even more love as they bear my ineptitudes and dreadful accent with patience and affection.
Seeking to listen to one who is new to a language, to understand, it forces the listener to slow down and pay attention, to encounter that person deeply and vulnerably. And in this difficulty and struggle is Divine Love. Divine Love—the Word—Christ. I have heard before that in Heaven, we all speak the same language. But I hope, in a way, we don’t.
The music of this institution is what I hope Heaven sounds like, full of foreign, exotic noises, all beautiful.
I believe Christ is the Word because he encompasses all the beauty of every language, every word, every soul that cries out to be heard . . . and He hears.
This post was originally posted on July 11, 2017, on my former blog, The Lukewarm Still Long, which has been closed.