Something about learning the same language

Something about learning the same language

After three weeks remaining silent as a treatment for vocal nodules, my wife, Fiona, has begun talking again.

All the same words, many of them spoken quite differently.

I must have missed the ‘reintroduction to vocalisation’ tutorial but our daughter, Molly, was certainly there. Based on recent form, despite professing a desire to be a teacher, speech pathology may be her sweet spot.

With each reformed phrase, she affirms Fi’s projection or pulls her up and models the way in which she should be vocalising those sounds.

Much of this relearning comes from how she produces the fundamental, foundational vowel sounds.

Reforming the language of a native tongue is a curious thing. To discover that you’ve spent a life speaking the right words in the wrong way is confronting. It’s not a switch that’s easily flicked. These words have been formed from a lifetime of impulse, osmosis and learned behaviours.

To establish a new language is to return to the foundations and learn a new way altogether. Not the language of dysfunction, but a strenuously learned language of unforced rhythm. It’s hard. When you’ve spent a lifetime in one language, a new tongue is foreign — even when it’s producing the same words.

This is the essence of soulcraft. Jesus adopts us into a new humanity — a spacious place where He reigns, where freedom reigns, where His Kingdom is ruled by love, where grace abounds, and where we live, move and have our being. But it’s slow work.

We’ve limped around for years having built a kingdom of our construction. One that worked for us. We placed ourselves at the centre of this kingdom. We propped it up with the things that we said and did, and we finished it with all the luxuries that we deemed essential for happiness.

For a while, it held together just fine. So long as the wind didn’t blow. When it did, we’d do a bunch more things. Maybe buy more stuff, escape to new places, work harder. Yet the cracks got larger, and there were more of them. Some tried religion — an extension to our little kingdom intended to bring a measure of peace and order to our land. But it was no use. In a kingdom where we rule and where we author new rituals, rules and regulations, we’re always struck with the same ruler.

When Jesus invites us into his family, he doesn’t intend occupying a space in our back shed; he wants the full run of the house. It’s how he does his best work in us, and it’s the relationship he always intended for us to have with Him.

The work he undertakes in us is complete reformation. New foundations (in Christ) and a new building formed by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes we are reluctant workers. As a much as our old building was a ramshackle hut, we knew the lay of the land. This new land is foreign. It’s because we’re learning our first nature in the wake and intermittent waves of our second nature.

Our first nature is grace, yet it’s foreign currency to our second nature. We know it’s good — it smells good, tastes good, feels good, looks good and sounds good — but it’s still peculiar to us. It calls us to light and spacious places yet we twitch to resort to the familiarity of a straightjacket we once struggled to wear.

Jesus makes a glorious invitation: “Give me the full run of the house”. Give me plenty of room to do my work in you. Let every detail of your life — words, actions, whatever — be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. (Colossians 3:15-17)

Fi mentioned that it’s one thing to read about what you’re meant to be doing with your voice, it’s another altogether to have it modelled for you. To have someone demonstrate what perfect vocal technique looks and sounds like. God doesn’t only point us to grace and say ‘there, a bit like that’, he incarnates grace. He knows what we most need is Himself, so he gives us Himself. Then He leaves his Holy Spirit to continue to point to Jesus and gift us to reflect and enjoy this grace for life and more life.

The curious thing, just like Fi learning to articulate vowel sounds again, is that we find ourselves saying the same words yet altogether differently.

Grace does that. It redefines, repositions, repurposes and realigns us. And it keeps on doing it as we continue towards grace incarnate.

You don’t walk away from grace unchanged. Sure, you can walk away from grace, but to have a genuine encounter with the God of grace and leave that land is to wander away from paradise.

A few days back, we visited the seemingly deserted Ancient Theatre of Taormina in northern Sicily. A spectacular amphitheatre built in 300BC with a capacity of 5400, the structure is acoustically superb. Like once we visited in Greece some years back, though, these things need to be independently verified.

While Fi hadn’t sung a note in a month, she took to the centre stage in the empty amphitheatre and sang, as I stood in the back row. As she finished, there was applause from people scattered over the archaeological site and cries for ‘more, more’.

The song: Amazing Grace. Grace does that. Who doesn’t want more of it?

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