Silence Our Companion

Acts 2:1-21  – Pentecost Sunday – for Sunday, May 19, 2013

“And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” (Acts 2:8)

Mission San Juan Bautista
Mission San Juan Bautista

I was born and raised in California where Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Francisco are prominent cities. Rivers flowing within the state’s borders include the San Joaquin and Merced. The Golden State is famous for the El Camino Real, the wandering trail linking the twenty-one Roman Catholic missions founded by Father Junípero Serra between 1769-1823.

History shouts out a lesson in Spanish nearly everywhere you turn in California.

In elementary school, learning Spanish was required. Though not as extensive as the proverbial 3 Rs of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic, we studied the language of Father Serra and those famous missions.

I went to school by Sacramento, the town of the sacrament. My grandparents owned a farm near the Merced River, the river of mercy.

I was lousy at Spanish, even after dabbling in it for those elementary years. At most, I can count to ten:  uno, dos, trace, cuatro, cinco . . .

In middle school, German became an option. I jumped the Spanish ship and boarded the German train. I started well and continued German in high school. My grades plummeted and by my sophomore year, the early As and Bs had devolved into dismal Cs with a glimpse of the basement called D.

Eins, zwei, drei, vier, funf . . . and don’t forget Montag, Dienstag, Mittwoch, Donnerstag, Freitag, Sonnabend and Sonntag. (But please don’t ask me the days of the week in Spanish.)

At the start of college, imagining myself a future attorney, well-educated and well-versed in Latin, I took a class for an immersion in that wonderful, essential dead language. I think my final grade was C+, but only because the professor liked me (and likely pitied me). Don’t ask me to count in Latin, though I can still interpret all of the years of the Super Bowls!

In seminary, my Presbyterian brothers and sisters were required to learn both Hebrew and Greek. Not we weak-willed, my-heart-is-strangely-warmed United Methodists! Back in the day, we only had to survive a solitary semester of one ancient language.

I chose Greek.

Today, I can’t count to one in Greek. I’m writing the first draft of this essay on a Friday, which in German is Freitag, but in Biblical Greek, today would be . . . well, I have no idea. Maybe once, near the end of my anguished semester of Greek, I could’ve faked some knowledge—because I passed the course!—but now? Continue reading →

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