Speaking and Listening
A few weeks ago, during Meeting for Worship at Atlanta Friends, a Friend rose and spoke at some length using very Christian language. This is not new, in that this particular Friend usually speaks this way. This time, however, another Friend spoke about using a language that others can hear, and it felt to me like she was referring to the first Friend's choice of words. It appears to me that many Friends in my meeting tend to stick with words like "Light" and "Spirit" and tend to shy away from saying "God" or "Jesus" and rarely use the name "Christ". I have some difficulties with this, especially with what I perceive as a bias against Christian language - that people who best express themselves with a Christian vocabulary must instead hide behind more vague terms. What I find particularly distressing is that the usual reason for this is that many people are refugees from spiritually abusive churches and find Christian language uncomfortable. By avoiding this language, we reinforce the idea that it is bad, instead of showing that it isn't the language that is bad but the way it has been used by others. While it seems that much of the focus is on how we speak, I believe we should instead be looking at how we listen.
The wife of a friend of mine is a native Spanish speaker, and she once found herself working with a couple of Italian engineers. She did not speak Italian, and they did not speak Spanish, but the languages are quite similar, and they discovered that if they each spoke their native languages, the other was able to understand well enough for them to work. It was much easier for them to find words in the vocabulary they knew, rather than to try to find fitting words in a language that they had only a little familiarity with. They were able to rely on the common ancestry of their languages to be able to hear what each other was trying to say. If our words in Meeting for Worship all come from that single divine source (hey, I can dream), why can we not listen and hear Christ's voice through those words. Why should we ask people to instead translate into language that may not express what God wants them to express?
The second chapter of Acts describes the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came and filled the apostles, and they spoke in other languages (i.e. they spoke in tongues). The remarkable thing is that those in the crowd heard the words in their own language. The Holy Spirit, the Inner Light , or whatever you wish to call it, helped those in the crowd to hear, just as it helped the apostles to speak. Can we not allow that Spirit to do the same thing in us today, and to truly hear and "feel where the words come from"?