I took Spanish for five years in public school, beginning in eighth grade and continuing through high school graduation. As I recall, I mostly made “A’s” and “B’s” on the tests. I could conjugate verbs with the best. Vocabulary tests? I aced them every time. Reading passages and writing paragraphs in the language? I was passable. Translating from Spanish to English? No problem. Conversation? That’s another story. I never got too far beyond, “Muy bien, gracias.” I learned all the parts of the grammar, but I never learned how to put it all together. I now know I never learned to “think” in Spanish. I always “thought” English and then translated into the (most of the time) appropriate Spanish equivalent. In short, I couldn’t navigate the language in conversation because it never seeped into my being, it simply remained as random words floating around upon my cerebral cortex.
I’ve just finished teaching a group of adults and young adults in preparation for our bishop’s visitation this coming Sunday. He will be receiving many of the adults into the Episcopal Church. He will also administer the Rite of Confirmation for the young people who will be confirming the promises made on their behalf by their parents at their baptisms, as well as for a couple of folks who were baptized as adults. As I have chatted with these folks over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the language of the faith and how that language is taught and learned in the church. Words like, “Trinity”, “Incarnation”, “repentance”, “grace”, “redemption”, “Eucharist”, “mercy” (and lots, lots more!) get tossed around with ease in the liturgy. Preachers use these and other churchified words in our sermons without too much thought. I’ve been reminded, though, that most of these words function as “vocabulary words” for Christians. They are the sorts of words folks hear in the context of church, but may not ever encounter outside of an hour or two on Sunday. How can we expect people to become fluent in the faith if the only thing they get is a few weekly vocabulary lessons over the years?
Somehow, we’ve got to figure out how to connect those religious/churchy words to lived experience. Somehow we’ve got to get those words out of the Bible and dusty theological text books and into hearts, minds and souls. In the meantime, perhaps it’s time for me to take another shot at Spanish. Maybe making the effort to finally get a foreign language into my being will teach me something about teaching the language of the Faith.