I write this on what, for me, is an exciting day. I’m going back to school. Unlike so many children who dread the end of summer vacation and the return to class, I’ve always loved the experience of school. For years after graduation from college then graduate school, I began having “back to school” dreams in late August and early September. Admittedly, some of those dreams were nightmarish – in the worst of my dreams, I had forgotten my daily schedule of classes or was unprepared for a test – but there were also dreams of excited anticipation: moving into a dorm room, buying the semester’s required texts in the bookstore, meeting fellow students, exploring a campus new and unfamiliar. My “back to school” dreams are a kind of reminder that it’s time to undertake a new project, expand the mind, embrace a new discipline.
Our arrival in Portland three years ago provided me with an unexpected treasure trove of opportunity. It turns out that Senior Citizens can take any course in Portland State University’s catalogue for free through the Senior Adult Learning Center: a veritable jackpot for someone with a love of learning! So last year, I went back to school, taking First Year Standard Arabic.
Why Arabic? I’m not sure I have an answer that most people would understand: I’m not planning on traveling to Arabic speaking countries, there aren’t any books written in Arabic that aren’t available in translation, and I don’t have occasion to interact with Arabic speakers who have no knowledge of English. It just seemed interesting. Beautiful to look at. And hard. When someone asks why I’m studying Arabic at this stage in life, my throw away response is, “I’m trying to fend off Alzheimer’s.”
In truth, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. One of the reasons it’ so hard is that Arabic thinking is different than English thinking – the words are put in all the wrong places in a sentence! But the greater part is that Modern Standard Arabic is a language governed by rules and to master the rules, you need to know the rules of your own language.
A confession here: I think I slept through the day in English class in High School where we were taught grammar. My use of the English language is grounded, not in the fundamental rules that govern its exercise, but rather by experience of the language. Most of that experience is a result of reading. I’m afraid, however, that if I was asked to parse a sentence a year ago, I couldn’t do it. So the real challenge of studying Arabic was that I had to learn English first.
Along the way, I rediscovered something formally that I had felt intuitively for a long time. My favorite words in the English language aren’t the big ones, they’re the little ones. My favorite words usually have less than five letters in them, sometimes only two. They are the prepositions. In. To. With. For. By. On. As it happens, the smallest words in the English language are the one with the most important jobs – they are connective. They are the words that describe what I believe are the most important aspects of human life; not our possessions or our achievements or our products, but our relationships. The prepositions define our proximity to and involvement with others in our life. In my reckoning, they are the words that assess our true worth because they define our connections with and commitments to the world around us.
I think there’s something essentially Christian about the prepositions, for in the end, we place our value not on the nouns in our life (the things), but on our relationships: who we’re with or for, the values we stand on, the loves that we’re in.
So, I’m off to class. Again. And I suspect that while I learn about something new to me, I may learn something about me as well.
إن شاء الله
Come and meet with the Vestry in the Birch Room on Wednesday, September 26, immediately after the 6:30 pm service of Holy Communion and Healing. This is an important time in our life as a congregation, and a number of exciting possibilities have emerged that can dramatically impact our future. We’ll answer questions and discuss the prospects ahead. Refreshments will be provided.
During the month of October, the Adult Forum will be reading Evelyn Underhill’s classic work, the Spiritual Life. Copies of the book will be available this Sunday for those who wish to participate.
About Commitment This seems to be the season of radio fundraisers. The buttons on my car radio are set to stations that are all currently asking for a commitment of money to insure continued broadcasting. The benefits promised are the continuance of classical music or insightful and timely news and analysis of the day’s events.
I’d like you to consider yet another commitment: not a financial one (although that will no doubt follow), but rather, a spiritual one. It’s an opportunity to make a commitment to be With. And For. And Of. If you have not been baptized or have yet to be confirmed or received into the Episcopal Church, I’d like to invite you to make a commitment to this branch of Christ’s tree. Bishop Hanley will be coming to St. Luke’s on December 9 for an Episcopal Visitation, giving us an opportunity to commit to this place, this family. We will be offering evenings of preparation during the month of November for those who choose to commit as well as those who would like a “refresher” on the value of this particular flavor of Christian living. Talk to Doug Scott for more information.
Thanks to those of you who contributed to the relief of those devastated by Hurricane Florence. We sent off about $140 to Episcopal Relief and Development representing the gifts of the congregation. If you weren’t in church when we accepted donations, you can still send a gift to Episcopal Relief and Development, 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017.
Pizza and Elmer’s Glue and construction paper and art supplies all came together in the construction of “God Boxes” at last Sunday’s gathering of St. Luke’s Young People’s gathering. A grand time was had by all.
The Ark has once again set sail and our program of spiritual enrichment for children is bustling. Children gather in the St. Matthew Room at 10:00 am and rejoin the Christian Family in time for communion in church. Invite a friend!