The Language of Life
With special THANKS to N.T. Wright
I was standing outdoors on a crisp cold winter’s day. The air was scrubbed clean after the refreshing showers of the night before. A few lazy clouds ambled by in a clear blue sky. Screeching parrots flew around excitedly calling out to each other. The grass at my feet glistened with the wetness of dewdrops. As I stood there, waving my son off to work, beauty called out to me like a nightingale’s song – clear, sweet, melodious.
A vehicle was parked ahead. The large removals van had a friendly smiling face and a telephone number painted on its side. Two men chatted to each other as they moved furniture inside it. It dawned on me that the words didn’t sound like English. So I looked and listened more closely. It was then that I noticed. The two men were brown skinned. Ah! I listened some more. It clicked in my brain; a switch that was turned on, flooding a room with light. Was that my mother tongue? Of course it was. The words couldn’t be made out. But it had to be Sinhalese. I was tempted to run across my front lawn and to shout out to them’ ‘Lanakavenda?” - that's: ‘Are you from Sri Lanka?” I pictured their joy as they heard a stranger in Australia speak their language.
It warmed my heart to hear my mother tongue – spoken in my present neighbourhood – 7,697 km’s away from where I spoke it in my neighbourhood in Sri Lanka when I was little. It was very special. I prayed for the two men as they zoomed off and felt an affinity with them that day. Language is a large part of who we are isn’t it?
I must confess rather ashamedly, that growing up in Sri Lanka, I began a love affair not with my mother tongue but with my second language. The magic of Enid Blyton stories catapulted me into the thrilling world of reading. Books opened a special doorway to life. They remain a central part of my life as they entertain, inform, inspire, teach and grow me as a person. And yes, I now love to write books as well as to read them.
I began to reflect that day on language. Do we speak the language of others? I don’t mean their mother tongue. But do we speak in a way that we are heard? And in a way others feel understood and valued? Have you noticed that often what we say is not what is heard by the other person? Husbands and wife are sometimes in conflict because what the wife says is not what the husband hears. And vice versa. The meaning of our words is often lost in the other person’s perspectives and life experiences. Then there is this unfortunate 'thing' called a ‘generation gap’. There was certainly one between my son and myself when he was little and many the skirmish thereof. I wish I could go back to undo those battles. A child’s perspective is often very different to an adult’s viewpoint, so it’s easy to say the wrong thing to a small person when we don’t take the trouble to view life through his eyes.
Some years ago, I listened to a talk by New Testament scholar and theologian N.T. Wright on ‘The Language of Life”. I was fascinated. He mentions that a traveller needs to learn the language of a new country. The ultimate test then is to be able to speak it like a native. He suggests that when we became disciples of Jesus we’ve “entered a new country”. So of course we need to learn its language. The Holy Spirit is our Helper, but we still need to work hard and practice discipline in order to master the new country’s language, grammar, syntax and all its fine nuances.
And what is the language of this new country? Why! The Language of Love of course. It all made perfect sense when N.T. Wright expressed it so clearly. Have you learnt to speak it? I am still a beginner in learning this language. But every experience in life helps me to learn it better and better. Oh that one day I can speak it like a native!
Three questions I can ask myself today:
How can I become more fluent in the Language of Life?
From whom can I learn to speak it better?
Who needs to hear me speak it today?
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love,
I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
And now, these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is LOVE.” 1 Cor 13:1, 13