What does it mean to hear in our native language?
By: Laura Field
I don’t know about you, but I’m completely taken by a line in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles: “How does each of us hear them in our native language?” As long as I can remember, this reading has brought to my mind an image of a lot of people with indecipherable quote bubbles over their heads and the sound of noise. This year, the text jumped off the page again, but not because the imagery is so vivid. Now it’s because as a practicing spiritual companion, the metaphor of God speaking to us in our native tongue is no longer just a metaphor. I’ve come to see how God communicates with us not in mysterious grand gestures (although that occasionally happens), but more often by speaking in our native language in our ordinary lives. Let me back up. In today’s reading, Jesus’ closest friends were squirreled away praying and trying to figure out what to do given that Jesus was leaving for good. Even though He had told them the Holy Spirit was coming, I imagine fear gripped them when the strong winds blew in and tongues of fire appeared. And, I can imagine their confusion when they realized they were all speaking and hearing different languages. But what strikes me as probably most surprising to them was when they noticed that foreign language-speaking Jews from all over – who had gathered because of the commotion – actually understood what was being said. In other words, while the disciples may not have understood what was coming out of their mouths, those who showed up heard what they needed to know. It makes me think about the times, someone has said something along the lines of “thank you for what you said the other day, I can’t tell you how much it’s helped me.” Often I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I thank God in those moments for communicating through me in that person’s native language. So what does it mean that God communicates with all of us in our native languages … to start I suppose it means God is multi-lingual knowing not just English, Spanish, and Polish, common languages here in Chicago, but also ones we don’t hear as often such as Arabic, Mandarin Chinese and Sign Language. Then there are the messages God delivers through nature and our daily circumstances. How awesome is our multi-lingual God who speaks in the commotion, whispers on the wind and sends messages via a burning bush? Isn’t it magnificent that we can pray in our mother tongue and God understands it? And how about the fact that God calls to us in the quiet and the chaos, in the voice of an old friend, the sound of a favorite song on the radio and the giggles of a baby? Listening for God in our own lives is a spiritual practice; it’s the essence of Spiritual Direction. In spiritual direction sessions, we listen by noticing what captures our imagination, excites our spirit and energizes our lives. We listen by paying attention to the places in our lives that seem bereft of God and noticing the nuances that distinguish life-giving experiences of silence from life-depleting experiences of emptiness. We listen for God in darkness and discernment. And through it all, we learn to trust that God speaks to each of us uniquely in our own native language. If you find yourself yearning to hear God’s voice more clearly, perhaps spiritual direction is calling to you today. Maybe God is speaking via an Old St. Pat’s bulletin article to you. If so, we’d be honored to listen with you.
Laura Field is one of many Spiritual Directors at Old St. Patrick’s. For more information on Spiritual Direction/Spiritual Companionship, please contact Tammy Roeder at tammyr@ oldstpats.org or 312.798.2350.