Creating Space for Play and Curiosity

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.

How do you infuse curiosity and play into your faith?

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Words Matter

Our WordsAt the beginning of the year, Bea was teased by a friend. We processed the words at the time, but the incident has come up again and again. In fact, I was surprised when, six months later, we came home from a playdate with that friend and Bea mentioned that she hadn’t been teased! Later, after her birthday party, Bea’s first observation was that her friends didn’t tease her. We still talk about it sometimes.

Frank and I had to tread carefully when processing this with Bea. The words were clearly hurtful and it broke my heart that someone had made fun of my sweet girl. I know that this is the first of many times when words will be spoken and feelings will be hurt, and I doubt it will get any easier.

As we processed with Bea, we made sure to talk about how her friend’s words were mean, but her friend is not. We wanted to really establish that people do hurtful things, but they are not hurtful people. That words can be used to hurt, but that doesn’t make the person using them bad.

And really, Bea’s friend wasn’t being mean or purposefully hurtful. She was acting her age and navigating the odd social system of the preschool set. Just as Bea was learning how to respond to hurtful words, her friend was learning to see which words could be hurtful.

It made me think of how our words matter.

Rim2015-0277e2During our miscarriage, as our nurse was searching the ultrasound for a heartbeat, there was a subtle shift in her vocabulary. She went from talking about the baby’s heartbeat to that of the fetus. I didn’t really register that shift in the moment, but on reflection, I realized how helpful it was for me to begin the grieving process. I needed to detach myself a bit from the idea of a healthy baby and recognize that we had an unviable fetus. That small shift was exactly what I needed. For others, that shift may have been harmful to their process of healing.

Our words matter.

When life is busy and Frank and I are like passing ships in the night, it’s easy to say things quickly and without context. It’s easy to stick with business conversations of groceries and bills and doctors appointments because we have limited time, and those are pressing. And yet… Taking a moment to have a small but powerful conversation about us is what keeps us going during those busy seasons.

Our words matter.

When we experience yet another mass shooting that brings about conversations and big feelings surrounding gun control. When another person of color is killed by a white police officer and conversations about justice resurface. When our own background and opinions get in the way of real, valuable conversation, I am reminded of how much our words matter. My words matter when I choose to say something against injustice. And they matter when I stay silent and listen. They matter when I push back or when I engage.

My words matter.

I’m learning again and again that how I speak and what I say matters. Whether it’s something small to one friend or something bigger to a larger audience, I am learning to stop, to take my time, and to remind myself that my words matter.

How do you process your words? Any advice for future hurt feelings?