A long time ago we lived on the fringe of South Africa.
On the border between this beautiful country & Botswana, where the lines between countries & nations blur into insignificance.
There we met people from Angola.
They spoke Portuguese.
It was interesting how easy it was for us to understand each other.
Their language influenced their thinking.
The structure of it.
The sharing of it.
Their understanding of the world we live in.
Their language is European.
Or at least western.
Now we live on the fringe again.
This time, where the lines become blurry between China & Russia.
In the far Northeast of the far-far East.
Here we’re meeting people from the Heilongjiang Province.
We are learning much.
About 礼品之路 ( Lǐpǐn zhī lù ) – the Way of the Gift.
Again we learn from language.
Without language we are isolated.
Unable to share our being.
Words are important.
They’re just sounds.
Sounds to which we’ve ascribed meaning.
In an attempt to connect our heart, its deepest sigh, to the heart of another.
To become a ‘we’.
In the meaning with which we fill the sounds of our voice, how we think about life becomes visible.
I’ve noticed two things about Chinese-language.
The first relates to time.
The second to gender.
In Chinese-language there are no past tense or future tense.
There is only the present.
In Chinese, you cannot say: ‘I ate yesterday’ or ‘I will eat tomorrow’.
You can only say: ‘I eat.’
You cannot say: ‘I have been eating’ or ‘I had been eating’ or ‘I will have been eating’.
And as I listen to the people I am privileged to come to know, I realize it is not that the past is unimportant, for them, or that the future is irrelevant, it is just that everything is connected.
Now & yesterday & tomorrow.
It is the same.
The past is not gone.
It isn’t over.
The future isn’t tarrying, it is here & influences now, as much as yesterday does.
As westerners we waste so much time thinking about past experiences & worrying about possible future calamities, we miss this moment.
Or we fixate on a future outcome.
We fail to live.
Perhaps, time does fold in on itself, already redeemed & irrelevant?
I read ancient Eastern words, about redemption given, ‘before’ the flow of linear time would justify it. (Hebrews 11)
I wonder if the ‘time’ of redemption, so many are waiting for, hasn’t come already?
If the perfection, the completion, we are hoping for isn’t already filled?
And I realize, if I could be redeemed from the meaning my Western Ancestors ascribed to the sounds we call words, I could live differently.
I could be redeemed to see time as something significantly insignificant.
Which would enable me to endure more.
To strive less.
To embrace without hesitation.
To love without selfishness.
For time cannot pass.
It cannot be lost.
A note in the margin, to Christians: as you consider this idea, keep in mind that Christ is not a Westerner & neither the Old or the New Testament originated in a Western environment. It wasn’t written by Western thinkers. Perhaps we lost something as we forced it into a Western mold?
Which brings me to gender.
As I consider 礼品之路 ( Lǐpǐn zhī lù ) – the Way of the Gift, I’ve been convinced that our language is inadequate to describe God.
Even in the smallest possible way.
I’ve been refering to God as ‘our Origin’, ‘the Way’, ‘the Gift’, ‘the Sourceror’.
Which seemed to not offend so much.
But when I speak of God as ‘(s)He’, I am challenged & questioned.
‘God is male’, I am told.
‘God is Father, not Mother.’
‘Jesus was a man.’
‘Jesus is the Son of God.’
In Chinese there is no gender.
No ‘he’ or ‘she’, no ‘his’ or ‘hers’, no ‘him’ or ‘her’.
There is ‘ta’.
And ‘ta’ is ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, all rolled into a single sound.
Could it be that the predominantly male perception of God, so predominant & valued in Christianity, is a product of our incapable language?
I listen to the related account of Judaism, Islam & Christianity, when they talk of us coming into being.
I hear the Creator say:let us create them in our image, man & woman.
Could it be that God is neither man or woman?
Could it be that we might see more of our Origin, if we do not see man & woman as seperate?
But as created together, only to be complete, in our at-one-ment?
Could it be that ‘atonement’ was never meant to aim at a ‘future’ with a heaven, but rather at a ‘now’, at an ‘at-one-ment’ in this moment, which is yesterday, today & tomorrow, folded together?
And so I call the Gift (s)He, not to say that God is female, but to constantly remind myself that I carry only a shard of our Source’s image in my gender.
To remind myself that I am ‘we’, ‘at-oned’ with (s)He who is more than we could ever imagine, while being ‘at-oned’ with a precious humanity, from eternity to eternity, in what we call yesterday, today & tomorrow.
And so I hope to be redeemed, constantly, from the limitations of my language, so that I could see Who is before language or time.