Reflections on the Spiritual Life
The Caprice Applequist Perspective
Episode 24: Challenges to my Identity
Me: This is tree. These is a tall tree. The boy is besade the tree. The boy is sad. The bhoy is sad because he iss net knawing wher hiz fruggg is.
Language teacher: Please stick to simpler sentences.
A friend of a friend recently said, “Learning a new language challenges every aspect of your identity.” As I sit here crying about how stupid I feel because I can’t clearly say, “The boy is sad because he doesn’t know where his frog is,” I feel the deep truth of this statement. For most of my life, words, and my ability to use them, have been an important part of my life. Eight years of speech and debate--destroying other people’s words with my own words. And then as a spiritual teacher and spiritual director, the words I choose (and don’t choose) are so important. But suddenly, I don’t have choices about which word to use. Instead, I often just have a complete blank spot in my brain where I want a word to be.
Words are important because they are an essential element of us being created in the image of God. God, by nature, is a creator. And how did He create? With words. So as we use our words, they allow us to be co-creators with God. We create new realities through the words we speak. As I struggle with less and less language, I feel my personhood getting smaller. In a way, I’m losing my humanity because I’ve lost my ability to communicate clearly. Yet, if I can learn this language well, I’ll have gained a different sort of personhood. I’ll be able to know and be known by many new people, who could never know me otherwise.
I’ve found myself thinking a lot on 1 Corinthians 13:1. This is from that famous chapter about love that people like to (annoyingly) quote at weddings. This particular verse points out that if I can speak in the languages of all humankind, but I am not loving, then there is no point. So I’m reminded that I can love apart from being able to speak with someone. Even in learning to speak, I hope that people see I am motivated by love. Motivated by a desire to connect with a broader portion of humanity.
Learning this new language feels like one blow to my confidence after another. It’s really really (really) hard. It’s exhausting. In many ways, it feels dehumanizing. Yet I’m reminded of my Messiah--Jesus--who gave up all of His power, who learned the language of humanity to show His love to us. May I be willing to follow Him in this way as well.
By Caprice Applequist
The people who know God well — the mystics, the hermits, those who risk everything to find God — always meet a lover, not a dictator. God is never found to be an abusive father or a tyrannical mother, but always a lover who is more than we dared hope for. How different than the “account manager” that most people seem to worship.
Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer
If you don't want to miss an episode, be sure to subscribe!