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 ~ Watch Your Language! ~

        The Scriptures do say in several places, "Watch your tongue!" Children are admonished to "watch what you say!" This watching involves more than our choice of words.

        One person of a disputing couple may say, "I love you." But hearing those three words, and seeing the gestures of the speaker, will help us translate. If the speaker taps her chest and emphasizes the first word, "I love you," it may mean, "I'm the one who loves you, not the person you are thinking about." Or she may say with outstretched hands, "I love you," meaning, "I just don't care for you as a friend, I really love you as a commitment." She may also point to the person and say, "I love you," meaning, "It's you whom I love, not so and so." Add volume, speed and tone of voice, along with facial expressions and eye movements, and more dimensions of meaning are also added.

        Lectors or public readers of Scripture at services or on radio and television have great responsibility and power. They can alter, consciously or unconsciously, the meaning of Scripture you hear without changing the wording: "For he chose us to be holy and blameless in his sight;" "For he chose us…;" "For he chose us…;" "For he chose us to be holy and blameless…;" "…to be holy and blameless in his sight." These differing emphasis plus the accompanying gestures and voice intonations draw our understanding of Ephesians 1:4 toward the intentions of the speaker, changing the meaning of the verse for us as we hear it. So it's good to watch the language and read it along with the speaker if you are not already familiar with it.

        The truth in the adage "A picture is worth a thousand words" is well known, as images form powerful languages. The shortest verse in the Bible, "Jesus wept," could hold a poverty of meaning unless one meditates on the image rather than the words that short statement of fact evokes in our minds and hearts.

        Non-literate and pre-literate cultures wrote "characters" rather than words and had no alphabet. Ancient classical Egyptian, Babylonian and Oriental encryptions are examples. These languages were mysteries to modern society until some archeological "key" was found, the Rosetta Stone being among the most famous.  Incredible (to us) memory skills were commonplace among such cultures dependent on oral tradition for the keeping of their historical records and beliefs. Even the young could recite for hours the epic tales and mythologies of their ancestors, and with exquisite accuracy to prevent the sacred knowledge from being embellished and contaminated through time.

        In modern times when notes must be recorded on pocket calendars and everything must be "put into writing or it didn't happen," great mental abilities seem like mental gymnastic feats and impress us. In a literate society like ours, memory and imagery are not taught or promoted as vital skills. What's really important is that you can read and write. You don't really have to know arithmetic anymore, as long as the electronic calculators and registers remain powered up.

        The "great minds" know different, however. Einstein would characteristically think in images whose complexity exceeded words. So he translated them into mathematics and other math-literates could then understand what he "discovered." Great masters in the arts would "see" images in stone and chisel them free. A literate linear-thinking mind would cut stone and "write" the image onto it. The sculptures of these artists cannot compare with those of the masters. Music, poetry and dance create images and tell stories that penetrate deeply into the heart, often bringing tears to the eyes of the beholder.

        Part of our regarding these "great minds" as prodigies is based in Western education, founded on Greek thought. Ages ago the Greeks "thought" like the rest of the world, until Socrates. This unkept, unemployed sage began to expound a system of questioning that became the foundation of the principles of logic. Naturally this was extremely threatening to the social foundations of his day, so they executed him. But Aristotle, Plato and others followed in his new tracks. Western thought and philosophy emerged and integrated into our reality from the Athenian schools.

        Thousands of years later, Western nations still teach the ancient Greek epics, mythologies and logic system. It is so ingrained in us, in fact, that the test of logic is a test of reality. "That's illogical" means "that can't be true." Just keep in mind the apostle Paul remarked that "the cross [of Christ] is foolishness [illogical] to the Greeks."

        Logic is based on words. Dreams, on the other hand, are not logical, but quite meaningful. 1 + 1 = 2 is logical, but so is 1 + 1 = 10. The first equation is based on a decimal system (numbers 0-9) while the second is binary (numbers 0-1). (Our first computer systems were binary.) 2 in decimal equals 10 in binary; 3 in decimal equals 11 in binary (2 + 1) and 4 in decimal equals 100 in binary (4 + 0 + 0). This is not logical to one who doesn't know the binary system, but it is still true and very real.

        Children are often illogical. Before I could read, I was able to correctly point to any state in the US on a wall map that my parents called out. I don't know how I did it, but I couldn't do it any more once I started school. Not only do children learn different languages (without being taught) in multi-cultural neighborhoods (and foreign national centers and borders of multilingual interaction), many develop their own languages between each other, incomprehensible to adults. Once in school or in receipt of pre-school education at home, however, a student may study a foreign language for five years via phonetics and "logical" rules of grammar, and still not be able to converse beyond simple phrases like "Hello, how are you?" with a native speaker.

        Give a pre-schooler a box of crayons and paper with the request to draw a tree, the child may reach for the blue crayon to color leaves, and may color the clouds red. Adults smile and gently inform the child that leaves are green and point out the correct crayon to use. The "illogical" blue leaves disturb adults on a deep, unspoken level.

        Many child drawings have colors cross over the lines defining a person or animal. "You must stay in the lines" the child hears. Often enough, however, this isn't a result of undeveloped eye-hand coordination. Some children choose a different color to scribble around their figure sketches. Some choose to use the same color but are consistently "outside the lines." Adults teach them not to. That isn't real.

        However, you'll find color auras around the sacred art of many pre-literate cultures that know nothing about the Greeks. Early (and some modern) Christian art also have full auras of light around figures, but most are whittled down to just head halos. The artists, of course, had classical Greek training. That is still reflected in the differences between Western Roman Christian art and Eastern Byzantine and Armenian renditions. Science has confirmed these "bio-auras" through Kirlian photography. (You can see my own amateur work in the Archives of our web site.)

        Do you remember seeing, in your youth, colors or images that adults just smiled at as being cute? Did you have imaginary friends who, at the time, truly consoled you with wisdom and love? Do you remember living in a colorful world that decorated the trees, playgrounds, mountains, oceans as well as the sky with rainbows? It may be difficult to recall that illogical world, one that is not just the experience of some children who grew up in stable, friendly, middle to upper class environments. Refugee children and those who live in poverty, whose childhoods have backdrops of war or affliction, also speak of such visions and experiences. Not all, of course, but enough that their stories are told and, as Jesus said, "Their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven" (Matthew 18:10b).

        A short story you may have heard concerns a child who tells her teacher she will draw what God looks like. "But nobody knows what God looks like," the teacher gently chided. The child confidently replied, "They will when I get done!" I hope the teacher didn't go on to teach the child that she could never see God. The child's images of God (Whom Christ said the pure in heart can see) will change throughout life. Jesus, Himself, told us we encounter Him in the poor, afflicted, bonded, hungry and oppressed. The writer to the Hebrews (13:2) remarked that some have entertained angels without knowing it, so we must be watchful, however illogical and unrealistic that seems. Those in love with Christ in "the same way [He] loved us" are being restored to the image of God in which the first Adam was created.

        The Scriptures are abundant with metaphor, poetry, teaching stories and imagery. Biblical scholarship in the Greek academic tradition is vital, so long as we don't make it all fit "inside the lines." If we do, we will not see the depth and splendor of its treasures. We can expound and dissect, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want." We can even argue what it means that so many of His sheep are indeed "in want," suffering affliction, persecution, even the sense of being divinely forsaken. Or we can pause and quietly "ponder on my bed" God as Shepherd and visualize, without words, how "He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul." What does "Your kingdom come; your will be done" look like in the eye of our hearts? What does "I will be with you always" feel like in our bodies and souls?

        We can sit or lay and offer wordless prayers. We feel love, sorrow, longing, or gratitude in our hearts and just silently keep feeling it, briefly asking the Father to listen to our hearts. That prayer can last for a few hours, even the entire day, as we go about business. I'm grateful that's how the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, "with groans that words cannot express" (Romans 8:26b). Those groans are beyond logic, scholarship, human understanding or any lines we draw. But they are very real: the breath of the Most High, Himself.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services

Weekly Reflections © May 3, 2003

Responses are welcome at: Reflections@prayergear.com

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