Not everyone in Quaker Meeting speaks the same theological language, but Friends have a way to listen for the Spirit behind the words.
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- Robin gives the examples of talking to “Evangelical Christians, and Buddhists, to military families and pacifists, and to people who are older and younger than we are, to people who are of our same racial background and of different racial backgrounds, people who come from different parts of the country, and from different theological understandings.” When have you had to speak with and understand people whose differences made it feel like they were speaking another language?
- Are you bilingual? What was the most difficult part of learning another language? What were the greatest joys and blessings?
Robin Mohr: For Quakers, especially for Quakers in unprogrammed worship, I think it’s important, because we have so much freedom in who speaks, that the practice—the discipline of interpretation, of discernment for yourself; of what did that mean? what did they mean? what does that mean for me? What does this mean for this community?—is a really important spiritual practice.
Listening in Tongues: Being Bilingual as a Quaker Practice
My name is Robin Mohr. I’m the executive secretary of the Friends World Committee for Consultation Section of the Americas. The Friends World Committee is the association of Quaker Yearly Meetings around the world, across all the branches of Friends, and I work with the Section of the Americas, which runs from Alaska to Bolivia. I think that listening in tongues is our spiritual discipline of listening beyond the words for the message of the Holy Spirit in the words that fallible, ordinary human beings have to use to communicate, and it acknowledges that the words that I use to mean this message may be different than the words that you would have used to express the same message, and so our ability to listen for what was really meant is an important practice for people in any spiritual tradition. Listening for what people meant is an important practice.
Learning to Talk to People Who Are Not Like Us
I think that it’s important for people to learn to talk to the people we think are not like us. To be able to talk to people who are insiders and outsiders. To talk to Evangelical Christians, and Buddhists, to military families and pacifists, and to people who are older and younger than we are, to people who are of our same racial background and of different racial backgrounds, people who come from different parts of the country, and from different theological understandings. That all of those can be like speaking a different language.
The Metaphor of Learning Another Language
Learning to talk to people who we think are not like us has a lot in common with learning to speak a second language. It has a lot of the same pitfalls, and it has a lot of the same joys of being understood and understanding. The first time that you actually understand a conversation in your new language is an amazing joy. To be able to be able to speak anti-racist language, to be able to speak Christian language, is a way of saying the same thing in new words.
The metaphor of learning another language can be really helpful to us in knowing that we’re going to make mistakes, that we have to practice, that we are beginners. I need to be listening really intently, and it can be exhausting to have to be listening that hard when you realize that you don’t actually understand what’s going on around you. It’s really a skill, but we will feel better, we will be happier in our lives, if we understand what people are trying to tell us and we are understood when we are trying to express ourselves.
Growing Our Meetings
I think that every Quaker meeting would benefit by growing, by being more accessible to the community around it, by welcoming people into our Quaker meetings for that deep experience with the Holy Spirit, that experience of worship with the Divine. And if we are able to speak with people in the language that they can understand, then they will feel more welcome.
Deeper Than Words
I think it’s an important part of being a Friend to be able to communicate, and to be able to communicate with people we think are not like us because the message is deeper and richer and more important than the words we could possibly use.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.