Posted on October 11th, 2012 | Filed under Featured, Learning, Uncategorized
Tagged with Birth; Sacred Texts; Arabic; Hebrew; Greek; Creation; Interfaith; Inter Religious; Tongues; Speaking in Tongues; Language; Latin
The day my son was born, I started speaking in tongues.
I’ve never spoken in tongues before. I’ve never spontaneously erupted into speaking/chanting/repeating anything other than my native English. It’s just never occurred to me. And while the classes I have taken in French, Spanish, Hebrew, and Greek have taught me the basics of those languages; I have never felt compelled to suddenly speak, publically or otherwise, those dialects. Not the day my son was born.
No, something was different that day. Anyone who has ever been present at the birth of a child understands the power and mystery in that moment. That power and mystery revealed itself to me in the flesh and voice of my son. And then that power and mystery moved me to a spiritual place I have never been before. And then I began to pray.
I prayed in Hebrew, “Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad,” which translates, “Hear Oh Israel, the Eternal is our God, the Eternal is One.”
I prayed in Arabic, “Bismillah ir Rahman ir Rahim,” which translates, “In the name of God, boundlessly Compassionate and Merciful.”
And I prayed in Latin, “Pater noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuu,” which translates, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
I prayed in Spanish. And French. And then in English. And I repeated these prayers over and over as a mantra of praise to the power and mystery that brought me my son. And the words came and I had no choice but to say them. And some of these prayers I did not know before. But the words came and it felt holy and it felt right.
After reflecting on this entire tongue speaking experience, it dawned on me that I wasn’t merely speaking in other languages, but that I was actually speaking in the holy language of other faith traditions. I am a Presbyterian Minister or Teaching Elder as the official jargon goes in the PC(USA). Arabic and Latin are not frequently used languages in my particular flavor of spirituality. Yes, I took a year of Hebrew in Seminary; however I have no formal training in Latin or Arabic. Where did that come from?
What does it mean to not only speak in tongues, but to speak in the sacred tongue of another religion? What does it mean when a Presbyterian, in a tradition that is so enamored with the Holiness of the Word, is suddenly drawn to pray and speak and praise with other Holy Words?
The language of sacred texts is a vehicle for faith communities to best experience the divine. Whether one views the actual text as in fact sacred, or whether one views the text as an instrument that points to something holy and greater, sacred texts provide a common lyrical arc for a faith community. I was experiencing the divine in the thrill of the moment of creation, and reacted with an unintentional response of textually sacred prayers of praise.
What compelled me, I do not know. But every prayer was worthy of the moment. Every language spoken was inspired and appropriate. At the moment of creation every language I was called to speak was in fact holy, and good, and in complete union with the divine and powerful presence that revealed itself at the birth of my son.
Will I ever speak in tongues again, I do not know. However, this experience has opened my world to new ways of praise and of giving thanks. Praise and thanks to a God who reveals and inspires in all of the world's languages.
Image by Martin Beek, via Flickr Creative Commons.