Thursday, February 05, 2015

Pondering language and blessings.

Last night I spoke with my eldest son about a talk he had given earlier in the evening on the idea of linguistics: how the words we use and how we name things, has an actual influence in the ways we can think about and act in the world. For instance, did you know that in Chinese there is no future tense? They have present and present-progressive tenses, but no true future tense. Some people feel the problem the Chinese have with an apparent inability to save money for the future is that they have no category to talk about the future. He also shared the idea that perhaps women's suffrage started in English-speaking nations first because we never had gender categories for nouns in our language, and thus had no inherent categories to keep feminine/masculine separate in the way that other languages did.

Our discussion called to mind a recent read of mine.  The novel Lila by Marilynne Robinson is a first-person narrative of the life of a brilliant and resilient woman raised in ignorance and poverty.  It begs this question: if a person is raised without the vocabulary of categories and words to express feelings, how much does that affect her abilities to think about and process her life?

It also reminded me of a study I heard about a few years back, when someone tried to measure the theological understanding of young church-going teens.  What that study found was that the teens did not have sufficient theological vocabulary to express their beliefs, so their understanding was significantly stunted.

These ideas about language fascinate me.  We are hard-wired for language.  It provides richness and depth to our lives, and is a tremendous gift of God to us; something to be nourished and cherished. That really is why I love teaching-- to try to inspire the same love, fascination, and thanksgiving for language.

As I discussed these ideas with Ben, grappling with his linguistic theory which was quite over my head, he said something else.  He said, "You know mom, I first started asking questions about this sort of thing long ago in our Worldviews class.  That is where I first got the idea that how I thought about something would alter its reality for me.  Thanks for that." Suddenly all my highfalutin ideas were forgotten.  I asked him, "Are you rising up and calling me blessed?"  "Why yes, yes I am." he laughed.

What a blessing. Oh, the power of words...

 Her children rise up and call her blessed...    
~Proverbs 31: 28a 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Desperation, Meaning, and the Iliad

I am currently reading the Iliad.  I have never read through the whole thing before, I must admit, so it is about time.  And I also have to admit that I am enjoying it. My smarter and better read friend, Cindy R., wrote this of the Iliad:

"...I love it because of its desperation- Achilles' desperation, that pre-gospel longing for significance and meaning. I suppose I love it because I have found a better country and it reminds me from whence I have come..."

I still find myself at times wondering what I will be when I grow up, wondering what my life will add up to, what of any importance I have accomplished in these few years on this little planet. I forget that I am, indeed, in a better country. What a blessed thing not to have to understand everything, but to rest in the knowledge that meaning will be had in the end.

They say the grass is always greener elsewhere, but I think sometimes the grass being brown and scorched elsewhere is a good reminder to enjoy your own piece of desert. Leave desperation for meaning behind and rest in the One who both is and makes meaning.

And while all of that is true, I have to admit that I often find myself laughing at all the wrong parts of this book. It is SUCH a "boy" book, after all.  The eyeballs falling out of heads and mingling with the dust at the victim's feet, the details about entrails and noble deaths, all remind me of the days when small warriors roamed my house and were inspired to live bold lives. And those remembrances kill off any remainder of desperation.

I am reading the Iliad with a wonderful online book group called Conversatio at the Harvey Center.  If you feel inclined to come along on a journey through the classics, fill out the information form here and ask for information about Conversatio, or take a peek at what we're up to here.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Happy birthday, Ada!

Today is the third birthday for the girl belonging to this beautiful, expressive face.  Happy birthday, Ada!  We love and miss you!