I’m Listening

The subject of language continues to figure heavily in our reflections on our time at the College of Transfiguration.  The language of instruction is English and all students are required to be proficient in reading, writing, and speaking English.  Some students seem quite at ease in English; for others, it seems a bit of a struggle.  As we continue to work on learning French, it’s humbling to know how important it is to these students’ success in their theological studies that they do well in what is, for the majority of them, a fourth or fifth language.

One of the areas in which we could hear enthusiasm for students’ first (or second, or third) language was during worship, when we sang a hymn in a language other than English and we could hear some students start to sing more boldly.

In order to strengthen students’ use of English, and prevent students from falling into the easy familiarity of just hanging out with the other students who speak their primary language, students are assigned to eat at a particular table at meals with others who do not all share the same language.

We will get the privilege of celebrating the Eucharist in chapel services from time to time.  The rector of the College (we would call her a dean) has told us that she requires the priests to lead worship in a language that is not their first–a way for us to experience the challenge that our students face as well.

One of the tools I’m using to study French is a podcast called Coffee Break French (by Radio Lingua. Check it out here).  I really enjoy it, in part because it’s taught by two people in Glasgow, a teacher, Mark, and a student, Anna.  So, in addition to learning French, I get to work on my Scottish accent in English!

What I enjoy most are his explanations of the meanings of words and phrases.  This is my favorite so far:  Mark explained that the French expression for “getting along well with someone” is literally “listening well to someone.”

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Brilliant!  So true.

In pondering the connection between listening well and having a good relationship, I find myself thinking of representations of the annunciation to Mary.  Sometimes the interaction between the announcing angel, Gabriel, and Mary is pictured with the angel’s words (“Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you,” Luke 1:28) coming from the angel’s mouth and going to Mary’s ear, as in the central panel of this altarpiece by Simone Martini in the Uffizi in Florence.


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angel's teeth

Gabriel’s mouth is open–we can even see the archangel’s teeth!  His words take on a physical form, a structure built onto the plane of the panel, just as God’s Word became flesh, became incarnate, in Jesus.

Art historians say that one reason the words (or Holy Spirit in some paintings) go to Mary’s ear is to support Scripture’s claim that Jesus was conceived by the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit (so, obviously, not the way humans conceive a child).

But this image of Mary’s reception of the words and Spirit also reinforces what discipleship is all about: listening to God.  Discipleship begins with listening to God, is nurtured by listening to God, is made a joyful adventure by listening to God.

Getting along well with others as listening well to others–this seems appropriate to discipleship as well. Listening well to God is key to being obedient, being a disciple, and becoming friends with God, and with other friends of God, even those more at home in other languages.


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