21 June 2021
Our Mother Tongue God is too Small
One of the big advantages of learning different languages is that you realise the limitations of your own language in expressing how we view the world. Not only do we name things and develop a new set of meanings for words in new circumstances - just look at the terms used in relation to computers, eg boot up, disc, drive, merge, hibernate, user friendly etc give us the chance to have some idea of what we are doing - but also our new language does have influence in shaping a new way of being.
The words come back with the new meaning applied to relationships and ordinary daily life. "Twitter", in case you see it around these days is no longer a sound a bird makes, but a way of direct communication where you can share the mundane things of your daily life. One "twitters" to a friend or group of friends telling them when you are doing something or you can share your feelings on bebo, myspace or facebook with the whole world, or a select group, if you have the desire to do so.
As with any new technology, we slowly adapt and also need new guidelines for parents. Stranger danger has a new meaning when the person has built up a "relationship" on the internet. You may not use these services but the world is being shaped by them in relationships and communication. By the way our church is on Facebook.
"More than 150million use Facebook to keep in touch with friends, share photographs and videos and post regular updates of their movements and thoughts. A further six million have signed up to Twitter, the 'micro-blogging' service that lets users circulate text messages about themselves"
In the early church the gospel was written in koine Greek, the language used in the Roman Empire for trade and the ordinary people. Like English today, a large part of the world [Mediterranean at that time] understood Greek so the good news travelled easily across ethnic barriers. Greek words acquired new meanings when written in the scriptures as the writers struggled to express the new concepts. Words like "grace" and "love", in a sense which worked against the culture of the times, gained new meaning and still need unpacking today even in English.
Ecclesia, the word for the public, democratic gathering of the males [over 18] of Athens to vote, changed significantly. Think about it. In the context of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a public gathering of only free men, became the word for church - a male, female, children and youths, freed and slaves without distinction and open to all who would come, public gathering of Christians to worship. Those who try to make churches closed and private select holy groups do not realize that within the word itself is an implication that meeting for worship is a public event. Public itself is also changed in the movement of the meaning of the word towards inclusiveness when Jesus places everyone in the context of being valued by God...
In the same way we find the words we try to use to describe God [not that we can actually do that] can both free us and limit us in our understanding. English has a big problem with gender eg God has no gender, but we have for centuries persisted in saying "he" when referring to God. Other languages do not have this problem, in fact in Hebrew God's name was never spoken. Also the person of the holy spirit, if we are to follow the biblical languages, would be she or it. In English we are stuck with having to assign a gender, but that has put us at risk of confining God to being male.
Our Celtic forbears didn't have any problem with expressing God, in Trinity, as three women, and Rublev's icon from the Orthodox tradition pictures the trinity as three angels who have no gender. Some find this challenges their view of God, and it will if we are firmly stuck within the confines of our language.
I recently read "The Shack", a fictional story about a man who faced his deep pain and was freed to forgive after he let go of his rigid view of God as a punishing father. The portrayal of God was of a threesome, warm, inviting people who enveloped him with love and the familiar warmth of relationship allowing him to let go and to grow in love and in his ability to forgive. It is a story, but it illustrates brilliantly how often it is our image of God which gets in the way of knowing God's amazing love is there for us. The book is a best seller and getting the Christian message over to a new generation. The story line itself is not complex, but as means of understanding something about pain and tragedy and where God's love is in it all, it gives word images and pictures which help us see the message.
The fascinating part of this is that I've noticed websites springing up which tell us how evil this book is. Those against it cannot stand God being presented in a different light but when one analyses their objections they are caught in the English language and are unable to see that God is bigger than our mother tongue.
God is much bigger than we can imagine, more exciting, more wonderful - we can trust this God whom Jesus shows us with our lives..
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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