Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Space Between the Words. . .

The other day, Jackie and I were discussing something or another. I don't even recall what the actual conversation was about, when I had one of those moments when my mind opened and I was able to see with great clarity. It was like for a moment the perpetual fog that I am usually in, cleared, a stiff breeze from a new direction whisked away the mist and I was able to see with crystal clearness and what I saw was just how differently she and I viewed communication, specifically words and language.

I love words. I love language. I love using exactly the right word or series of words to express myself. When I say something I try to say exactly what I mean. I choose my words carefully. To me there is weight and momentum and energy in words. If I tell you that I will meet you at 8:00 and I arrive at 8:02. I feel badly. My actions did not fulfil my words. It is not that I think that you will be upset or somehow look down upon me, but my words did not reflect my actions. I let you down. I broke my words. . . If I tell you that I will be there at 8:00, I will make every effort to be there at 7:50. Most of the time then, usually I will say that I will be somewhere around 8:00. To me, my words have substance. They are meaningful. They are communication. . .

The thing that I saw with Jackie, in my brief moment of clarity, is that to her communication is much much more than words. The words are not as important as the spaces between them. With my words, I can say, "I love you" to her, but if my tone of voice is harsh and not loving, if my body language is tense and not caring, if I immediately go on to another topic. . . if (as my Pastor relates on this topic), I've forgotten to take out the trash. . . and on and on and on. . . then to her my real message is something else. How many times this type of misunderstanding has taken place? I cannot begin to put a number on it. . . My words are meaningless if my non-verbal message doesn't coincide with my words.

With Jackie and I, I put virtually all the importance on the spoken words while she is very intent upon the spaces between the words. I don't catch subtle hints very well at all. I explain to her, if you want me to know something say it in words. Hints and shades of meaning are very likely to pass me by. I don't mean to be ignorant or dense, but I am focused upon the words. It's undoubtedly a shortcoming of mine, but I think that it is also shared by much of the male species. Pretty much to the exclusion of every other message being transmitted to me, my focus is on the verbal message in a conversation. On a wonderfully warm and sunny summers day, your gaze happens upon a tree. You can look at the leaves of the tree or alternatively you can peer at the blue sky showing through the leaves of the tree. There is no right or wrong. What do you see? It's classic, what do you see? Is it half empty or is the glass half full? Where is your focus. There are many foreground and background optical puzzles, but it goes deeper than little games.

We are in many ways literally speaking different languages with very different grammars and vocabularies. I am surely no expert on the human brain, but these differences go so deeply that I more than slightly suspect that they represent a basic difference in our wiring. It is a struggle to learn a new language and generally when you learn a second language you never become anywhere as proficient at it as a native speaker, but. . .but. . . but!!! The native speakers of a language always greatly appreciate the attempts of a non-native speaker to talk in their tongue.

Some of the differences between our uses of language between the genders may well be attributed to orientation on the basis of our roles in the family. The woman is more internally focused upon growth and nurturing, caring and creating while the man has a more external task, destination, accomplishment and achievement orientation. The woman needs to discern and interpret the wellness or illness of her charges and tend to needs of her loved ones that they may not even be aware of. The famed and fabled sixth sense of women is a wonderfully real and powerful skill,that in my thoughts, is based on a woman's ability to interpret non-verbal information or messages that would pass 999 men out of a 1000 completely by. Who as a child wasn't convinced at times that their mother truly had 'eyes in the back of her head.' She could tell when you had done something wrong or even when you were about to do something wrong despite your best efforts at hiding your intent from her.

Men on the other hand are focused externally. Our motivation is upon accomplishing particular goals, providing food, shelter, laying away for hard times. Information, facts, warnings, explicit needs and orders are the substance of our communication needs. These tasks require a completely different set of communication skills than figuring out whether a quiet three year old is seriously sick or merely guilty of some small crime.

A thought comes to me that these differences between the language uses of men and women are in some ways paralleled in the languages of the Bible. Please I am no scholar of Hebrew and Greek, but from my studies and reading about these two languages these observations come to my mind. Hebrew seems to be a language of implication, and connotation. Words suggest other words. Words have usages and similarly sounding words which influence each usage in a multi-dimensional matrix of meaning and nuance. It is rich beyond belief. We lose so much understanding of the Old Testament by not being native speakers of Hebrew.

A week or two ago I was doing a study on this verse:

Genesis 2:8
Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the East, and there he put the man he had formed.

The word we translate as 'Eden' can also in Hebrew mean God's delight or pleasure. The word we translate as 'east' can also mean fore or before. West is away or the hind part or behind. East means the fore part, or before. Using these two connotations or expansions from the original Hebrew words this passage can also mean that God in His delight and great pleasure created a wonderful garden before He created man and then He put man in this wonderful garden that He specifically created for man.

Richness and depth of meaning is present in Hebrew that is beyond the most exquisite of translators to convey to us. We must dig and dig and continually read between the lines in order to come even close to understanding the original Hebrew meaning.

Greek, the language of the New Testament, on the other hand is renown as a very precise language. Numbers of Greek words for what we merely call love: Eros, philia, agape, storge, thelema. There are lots of examples like this. Greek has multiple words for shades of an idea. Again, my impression, but nothing so nearly as much is lost in the translation of Greek to English as is lost in the translation of Hebrew to English.

But again, the Old Testament was written to and for and about God's chosen people. Please don't misunderstand me, it is relevant to us, but the Old Testament is primarily a story of a common people in their own language, a family story, an internal story of the Hebrew people. Hebrew is an internal language, a language with many internal meanings that are lost to outsiders. The New Testament is a testament, a contract for the WORLD!!!! and the language that it is written in, is one of precision and more open to non-native readers. The languages that the Bible is written in, exactly parallel and are entirely appropriate for its purposes. . . . This is no coincidence. . . This is the plan of God.

Please. . .I never know where I am going to end up when I start typing one of my little emails. . . This is quite a different destination than I envisioned when I began. . . It is so very wonderful. Everything about the Bible amazes. . . the deeper you look the more wonder and humility you must be filled with.

The wise of this world see this as foolishness. . . we must pray for them. . . I was there once. . .I was blind and now I see!!!!

Thank you my God!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I love you God. . .
I love you all. . .

Dave Stokely

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