Shut up and listen

If you are anything like me (perish the thought!), your prayer time looks something like this:

You’re knelt before your bed, probably tempted to lean over onto your elbows but straighten your lumbar region and flex your core to endure the posture-filled prayer stance that joins you (ever so slightly) with Christ’s cross.  After getting over the minuscule pain, you start off with one spiritual foot into the direction of God’s presence.  You get so giddy that you start showering Him with requests, praise, hymns, maybe even a few curse words if you had a bad day.  In any event, the first part of your prayer is filled with your words… and so is the middle…. and the end….

I got a wonderful idea when I was praying in this way: if I want to be more like God, perhaps I too should shut up and listen.

I took a page out of my Father’s book and, for the past week, have done as little speaking as humanly possible.  While most people looked at me funny because I was abnormally silent in the presence, it turned out to be an epic week.  I learned about their deepest desires, their needs and what makes them genuinely happy.

The best part- I listened as they solved their own problems through their own words.  By talking themselves through it, they became very satisfied with their discoveries and then thanked me (for doing absolutely nothing).

And so it is with prayer.  I think God’s silence speaks more than his words ever could.  That’s why, when I think about the Bible, I think about those written words as great pieces of advice, but there is so much that remains unwritten.  It is like outer space, we know a lot about it, but there is so much more to be discovered.

The only way to discover anything, then, is through silence, His and ours, because seeping through the barrier of words grows the profound roots of Truth.

So shut up every once in a while.  In doing so, you’ll know exactly when you should speak up.

My Ironic Journey Toward Learning the Spanish Language

The Spanish language is something of awe to me. I remember taking intro classes in High School and hating it with all of my being. I thought it was useless for an American like me to learn a language I would never use in the future. Little did I know how much this language would have in store for me in the future, and how God decided to use it to humble me.

When I arrived back from Oaxaca, Mexico in January of 2005, I was very distressed that I could not offer as much help as I wanted to during our 2 week mission trip. It was frustrating that I could not speak with a 5 year old child who wanted nothing more than a piggy back ride. In my misunderstandings, we occasionally were able to communicate through body language, but we wasted so much time that could have been spent helping and loving. It was then that I realized that if I wanted to be at all effective as an inner-city school teacher (or missioner for that matter, a vocation that was also on my heart), I was going to have to learn the language.

I got quick to work taking my first introduction to Spanish class with complete seriousness. My teacher was excellent, Maria Villalobos Beuhner. She made me work very hard and I was up to the task. She planted the seed in me that would eventually become my motivation to make Spanish my major.

After one year of constant study, I was off to Spain to study abroad. The language was very difficult at first, but by the grace of God, I was able to find new ways, new friends, and new dictionaries that helped me learn the language. After 3 months, the language was a part of me and I became addicted to it even though I didn’t completely understand it.

When I came back to the States, I attempted to find any outlet to use my Spanish, but it was not welcomed very well. I watched Spanish TV and read Spanish books, even completed a few more Spanish classes, but it didn’t seem like it was enough.

It was then that I met my wife, Maribel. We fell in love and have spoken the language ever since. I recommend falling in love with someone who speaks a different language than you do (as if you really had a choice). It forces you to listen to every single word whether you want to or not. It leaves no room for laziness and a lot of room for patience; these being two great foundations for marriage.

As it is, the language that I hated for so long and to a certain point despised has now become the language in which I love. God has given me this gift to love my wife, my mission, my students, and of course my family in a whole new way. It is a language of love that I personally cannot speak without smiling. It has humbled me in ways that are only explainable by God. For this gift, I am both in awe of God’s power to change people’s lives in creative ways and I am also thankful.

To top it all off, this is the language in which I have been given the mission of proclaiming the gospel both in my hometown of Grand Rapids and in my second home in Mexico. The Lord certainly does work in mysterious (and ironic) ways.

I confuse white people

I have a confession to make: I’m white.  I have another confession to add: I have a joke I like to play on folks of all races, but primarily white folks.  Allow me to elaborate…

¡Qué guapa!

My beautiful wife is from Mexico.  She came to the States when she was 18 and although her English is flawless (she graduated from one of our high-class universities), her accent can be pretty thick at times.

¡Qué guapo!

This is me.  I’m from west Michigan which has a history of being dutch and protestant.  Since I am neither dutch nor protestant, I find myself chucked into the American melting pot above a flame that sears me at times, but one that I can manage to live with.

When my wife and I go out, it never fails that every cashier, waiter or grocery store employee takes a good look at us and then promptly directs their first words to the tall white guy who they assume speaks English.

“Hello, can I help you?” they say.

This is when I get a bit mischievous.  Without prompting my wife, I look at the kind greeter with a confused look and then to my wife.  Then I break into Spanish mode.

“¿Qué dijo?” (What did he/she say?)

My wife plays along. She looks back at the greeter and translates for me in Spanish. We go like this until the greeter leaves us.

I don’t know if this joke is friendly or even courteous, but the teacher in me loves it. Did you know that a very small portion of Caucasians and african americans speak a language other than English?  Did you know that the majority of monolingual people on the entire planet live in the United States?  Don’t you find that quite odd considering how multi-cultural our Nation is?

About 10 years ago, my language skills were fossilized because I, like many Americans (especially in western Michigan), was under the impression that my mandatory language classes were a huge waste of time.  “Why do I need to learn Spanish?” I would say to myself.  “I’m never going to need it.”

Well, if you don’t know my story, the Spanish language has become my life.  I’ve been studying and traveling for seven years now and thanks to my favorite and most attractive teacher, my wife, my children and I are becoming bilingual.  We’ve registered with the “hispanic” Church in our diocese and our ministry has rooted itself in the foundation of the Spanish language and the various cultures that make up our faith community.

So what’s the point?  Well, God resurrected my fossilized linguistic skills and gave them life in abundance (against my will).  Without this gift, I would not have a job, I would not have become a missionary, I would not have met my wife and I probably would have ended up like the majority of the monolingual Americans who surround me.  Granted, I would probably still be happy and faithful to my God and His Church, but it wouldn’t have been so spicy.

Pica mucho

If you are one of the millions of monolingual Americans out there, go ahead, have at a language or two.  Conquer that tower of Babel and play some jokes on those who take the road most traveled.

God is… water?

One of my favorite sayings is when people refer to “grasping water” when the talk about the unimaginable, the passing, and perhaps the unattainable. Just to give you a few examples:

I had an awesome dream last night, but no mater how hard I try, I can’t remember it. It’s like trying to grasp water.

or

I can’t believe the pet fish that I won at the carnival died after two days.  I barely even knew the poor chap.  My time with him was like trying to grasp the water he swam in.  

and

I was so close to being the first man in recorded history to bury my entire house with dirt using only a baby’s starter spoon.  If only the city permit office clerk would have overlooked my apparently “illegal” digging grounds, I would have accomplished my feat.  To get that Guinness World Record is like grasping water when you live by the laws of this land.  

You get my point, right?

Well, it just so happens that grasping water also has a place in Christian theology too.

Think about it, how often do we see water mentioned in the Bible?  The answer, according to the Revised Standard Version of the Bible at logos.com, is 689 times. (That is a close in proximity to fire which banked 626 mentions)

Here are just a few of water’s red carpet appearances in the book of Life:

And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. ~Gen. 7:1

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” ~Mat. 14: 28

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. ~Luke 3:16

Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. ~Luke 7:44

Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. ~John 2:7

But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. ~John 19:34

So water is great.  Grasping water, on the other hand, is difficult; Nay, it is an impossible science experiment.  For when we attempt to dominate it by encapsulating it in our clutches, it has no choice but to travel its natural course through the grooves of our fingerprints and onto the floor.  If we are lucky, drops of liquid remain on our skin while the rest dies and comes to life again through the water cycle.

Water, then, has the best physical resemblance to God.  It lives in three forms, travels freely without without human consent, sustains life, cleans and even quenches my thirst when things get hot.  What’s more is that grasping it (or in other words, understanding God) remains a task as difficult as the aforementioned physical science experiment that has a 100% rate of failure.  That is unless…

we drink it.

The human body is more than 60 percent water. We are more like God than we think.

Do you speak in “quotes” from movies or T.V. shows?

If you challenged us, my brother and I could probably go an entire day speaking only in movie quotes.  Scratch that; we could probably go an entire day using quotes from The Simpsons alone, then carry out the rest of the week with movie quotes.  Judging by the amount of facebook status updates I see, I can safely say that my brother and I are not alone in our love for contextual repetition.

So why do we love these zingy one-liners?  What makes us want to use them so often?  Here’s my theory:

Americans have a history of shared culture.  Our culture is young (only a mere 300 years old) and was founded on the mixing of other cultures.  We’ve all been taught that our Nation is a “mixing-pot” or a “salad bowl” of many different races, religions, customs etc.  It is because of this youthful compilation of cultures that we have very few aspects of our culture that are original to America.  Sure, we have jazz music and hip-hop, Apple technology and space innovation, but the majority of what makes us us can be traced back to other countries.

Because of our savvy ability to mix and match social structures and because of our lack of originality, we take one of the few things we have in common, the entertaining media that surrounds us, and insert them into our conversations.  Movie and T.V. lines serve as sparks that hope to ignite a flame of continued small talk.

Like the good Catholics, however, small talk will never suffice.  Our spirituality doesn’t allow us to settle for just a mere flame in our relationships; it seeks the warmth of the eternal bonfire: God.  Since He is the One who set the universe into motion, His is the first Quote that reverberates through us.  Our actions, both big and small, are only echoes of His living Word.

That’s why we love quoting movies and T.V. shows so much, because when we repeat them, we succumb to our lack of originality and our longing to be accepted by that which unites us.  But these common quotes are merely catalysts that ignite a larger, more profound wick that God has embedded into our hearts.

If we allow the fire to travel its proper course, the end result will change from a repeated phrase of no significance to the beautiful poetry of the Creator of the World.  Indeed, being united to God is the only way to be truly original.  How wonderful it is to co-author the greatest story ever told with Him.