What a joy to worship with my congregation yesterday morning! After having spent more than two weeks in Myanmar and having worshipped in unfamiliar tongues, I relished the opportunity to sing, pray, and read in my own heart language. Though I must admit, I missed the rich, deep tones of the ministers in my class as they sang in Burmese. (Check out the short video below!)
Since journeying to Myanmar again (my 2nd visit), I’ve been thinking a lot about “heart” language. For the multi-lingual among us, one’s heart language is the tongue learned first, the language spoken at home, or the language in which a person dreams. My own heart language is English because I never truly applied myself to high school language studies. My doctoral classmates from the Myanmar Institute of Theology, however, spoke many languages. Burmese is the national language that binds together a diverse population, but it is not the native tongue of the ethnic minorities. The language of the heart among Chin, Kachin, and Karen ministers might be their ethnic group’s mother tongue or even a tribal sub-dialect. One minister in my class spoke two or three sub-dialects, his ethnic language, Burmese, Chinese, and English. Wow.
While my coursework was conducted in English, there were times I did not understand when other languages were spoken. Often my classmates reverted to their heart languages when English words just wouldn’t come. Sunday worship was conducted in two languages, except during my preaching! Then, it started in English and proceeded through two translations. Whew! After church I got a chuckle out of learning that one speaker had read a list of all the donors and donations to the church building fund. ALOUD. DURING WORSHIP. (I’m considering that at my church after the next offering! Can you imagine?)
Sometimes without shared language, we resorted to symbols and gestures. A smile. Food. A bow. Laughter. A handshake. Tears. A wave. The heart speaks, and no words are necessary.
Reflecting on those days, I appreciate what a gift it is to relate to other human beings, to know and be known, to communicate and understand. Relationship is God’s gift, as evidenced in the life of Jesus and made possible in our lives through the Spirit’s work.
Words are helpful, but I wonder if the heart language of the Spirit is spoken in the quiet gestures of love. Welcome. Friendship. Hospitality. Joy. Mercy. Compassion.
With what little is left of this Lenten season, I think I’ll lay aside my pre-occupation with words so that I might grow ever more proficient in the heart language of the Spirit. May I become increasingly fluent in quiet gestures of goodness and love.