Language is the primary form of communication that creates the unified bond of connection and oneness that creation groans and yearns for. Whether spoken, written or embodied, language shapes the very culture and climate that we are creating as living beings. It's body of words or systems are the environment of formational community.
We all grow up mastering certain skills that are imparted by those who nurture and influence our lives. Some of that nurture is a deliberate attempt to instruct and teach, while the predominant catalyst for our maturation is the ongoing experience of interactive osmosis.
Story (prose and poetry) and song are the dominant motifs that give our words a framework of explanation and understanding. Sometimes it feels like a chicken and egg scenario of which came first, the words or the stories and songs. Did the stories and songs introduce us to words or did the words come together to create those mythologies and melodies?
Learning a new language in the form of an indigenous dialect can be one of the most challenging and yet rewarding pursuits of the human experience. I recently decided to no longer delay the inevitable, by digging into my indigeneity by learning Te Reo Maori in order to connect the missing pieces of my lost heritage. I think I realised that the only way to honour my ancestors and shape a future for my whanau (family) was to at least acknowledge and understand the very basics of how my cultural geneology came about.
‘I listen to the voice that speaks to me from out of the ground’ - James K. Baxter
My whakapapa (geneology) has rich links to the whenua (land) of Aotearoa NZ and for the past 10 years it has been asking me to listen to the voice that speaks to me out of the ground. We owe it to ourselves to pay attention to the cultural inflections that shape our place in society. You are the by-product of those who have gone before you, whether you like it or not.
They say a child can learn multiple languages in the first five years of her life, a testament to the fact that our early formation as humans is sponge like and able to adapt to multiple informational inputs. As we grow older we become a little more brittle and inflexible, stuck in our paradigms and limited to the dominant voices in our lives. Language is a gift from God that continues to educate our ignorance and elucidate our imagination. We cannot turn back the clock but we can open our hearts and minds to the richness of colour and creativity that resides in the sounds, symbols, signs and gestures that are available to us every day.
The ethnologue catalogue of world languages, which is one of the best linguistic resources currently lists 6909 living languages, a reminder of the rich diversity of cultural expression that shapes the human race. Our goal as a global community should be to expand our relational boundaries in order to appreciate the complex cosmologies that make up our world.
The Genesis story of the tower of Babel seems to suggest that God had a part in ‘mixing' things up by giving humanity vernacular variety in order to expand their horizons and venture out into the world to make it a better place. One language would not be enough to evolve the human experience or help us build a better place for our children's children. As an interesting side note, Babel means 'mix and mingle’ or ‘confound and confuse’. Maybe the only way for our race to survive is if we spend more time developing our linguistic aptitude in order to realise that God is not wanting us to build a world that is constantly looking up, in order for the cream to rise to the top so to speak, but looking out with and for one another, learning to interpret and engage with the differences that make us unique.
God is not a one sizes fits all God who wants a singular way of being believing and belonging modality of life. The language of religion should not be appreciated because of its ivory towers of heavenly attention but because of it’s earthy attention to cultural interaction and interface. Let the words of your mouth and meditation of your heart remember this.
Ko taku reo taku ohōho, ko taku reo taku mapihi mauria (My language is my awakening, my language is the window to my soul)