Now that it’s summer, the girls and I are in the car a lot together. I drive a Honda Civic, meaning that we’re in close proximity for all music choices and conversation. Recently, I’ve been reminded of what a linguistically fun season we’re in.
Elle loves separating words by syllable and then finding other words that rhyme with those syllables. Most of her rhymes are nonsense words but I love listening to how she dissects and reassembles language. I had forgotten how fun it was to hear kids puzzle out words and language.
Bea adds to our conversation by asking about the etymology of words and phrases we’re using. We wonder why we used certain words in certain ways and why some letters are pronounced differently, depending on the word’s origin. We talk about phrases and where they come from and how they’ve changed.
These conversations aren’t our norm but about once a week or so, we’ll dive into language and it’s been such a good reminder for me about the shifting nature of our communication.
This makes me especially happy because I love thinking and learning about the origins of language. Perhaps that’s why my girls love picking apart words – I happily jump into the conversation, just as curious as they are. I find the history of language fascinating and love that we’re able to reframe words and phrases every few decades or centuries.
I’ve been slowly working my way through Womanist Midrash by Dr. Wilda Gafney. She takes stories of women from the Old Testament and digs into the words and language surrounding them. Using what she calls her “sanctified imagination,” she adds to the story, creating robust narratives around forgotten and abused women. She breaks down the ancient Hebrew words and phrases and helps the reader understand the context and nuance.
Womanist Midrash is the most recent part of my journey in understanding the fluidity of language and belief. If our modern English language can ebb and change as quickly as it does, it’s no wonder there’s such mystery surrounding the language of the Bible. Yes, scholars study and understand the ancient text in its rightful context but for this lay-reader, I’m amazed at all I don’t know about what the Bible is saying, simply through the language and translations given.
A friend and I were recently talking about how we reconcile faith and politics and law. We were talking about specific current events but I think our conversation could be expanded to any sort of Biblical grappling. How do we understand what the Bible was actually saying, especially when we don’t know the language and context fully?
Our conversation made me think of the car rides with my girls, of breaking apart words and thinking about each part, in context and out of context. It made me think about the ways in which rhyming nonsense words helps build a linguistic foundation of curiosity and play which will eventually lead to fluent literacy. For now, my girls love having fun with language and giving them space to figure it out helps me remember the process rather than the outcome.
I think that’s what I’m learning about faith, too. It’s about dissecting and puzzling. Sometimes it’s about making up nonsense rhymes as I work through certain parts. Sometimes it’s turning to the experts and diving into what we do actually know about the language and culture. Either way, I’m leaning into the process. I don’t know where my outcomes will be in ten or fifty years – or maybe I’ll never know.
Maybe that’s the point. Maybe there’s enough ambiguity and space to allow for the play and curiosity. Maybe that’s what faith is all about – not necessarily finding the answers but enjoying the process of puzzling.