Listening in Tongues: Being Bilingual as a Quaker Value

Not everyone in Quaker Meeting speaks the same theological language, but Friends have a way to listen for the Spirit behind the words.

Encounter Friends from other countries and traditions.

Jon Watts

Jon Watts launched and directed the QuakerSpeak project for its first 6 seasons. Keep up to date with Jon’s work at his website.

6 thoughts on “Listening in Tongues: Being Bilingual as a Quaker Value

    By Bill Dockery © 2009
    [Note: This was written to my church listserv and has referencesI haven’t fleshed out for a more general readership. The occasion was the coincidence of TVUUC’s 60th anniversary celebration and the sentencing of the man who came into our church with a shotgun and killed two people and wounded seven more. Haley & Marshall are my kids and Chris is Chris Buice, our minister. I take the liberty of posting it as a response to your post]


    “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”
    1 Corinthians 13

    Tonight Haley and I attended the vespers service Chris held as a coda to both our 60th anniversary and the sentencing of the man who killed two people in our church. I was on the way to a meeting at Marshall’s school and the service was a way station for reflection in route to more pressing business.

    The service was simple but deeply moving. We opened with Hymn 1, “Let Nothing Evil Cross This Door,” which has its own resonances for me, and then went on to a reading of the 23rd Psalm, other songs and readings, and an intimate lighting of candles and sharing of feeling. There weren’t but a couple of handfuls of people there in the dim room but, among all the powerful and stirring celebrations and dedications we’ve experienced over the half-year, this one ranks as possibly the most poignant.

    Haley has been a part of TVUUC since she was a baby, crawling around on the table during the board meetings as we planned the new church more than a decade ago. She has been, over the years, remarkably patient, accompanying us in services and meetings that often weren’t entertaining or meaningful to her at her age and level of abilities.

    Tonight, when we began to sing, I held the book up for her as I have taken to doing of late, and she sang. She couldn’t read the words, but by the second verse she had a rough approximation of the tune and she joined in, fitting whatever syllables she could create to the music we were making.

    This isn’t rare for Haley. Like many people with cognitive disabilities, Haley’s musical wiring is much more complete than her “reading” circuits. At Carter Middle School she’s sung in the chorus for four years, thanks to the generosity and patience of the two women who teach chorus. Though it’s often discordant, Haley’s participation is taken for granted at concerts.

    It went beyond that tonight. When we did the responsive readings, to make her feel included I again held out the hymnal, and to my surprise she began to speak. There were no recognizable words — she couldn’t intuit what the rest of us were saying fast enough to echo us — but she rose to the occasion and lent her own tongue to our voices. She wasn’t at all hesitant; she simply joined the people around her.

    I awoke an hour ago thinking about that, about speaking in tongues, and Haley joining in, and I say to you, When we speak in love, every utterance, whatever it sounds like, is in the language of angels, which is our language.


    There is treasure everywhere —
    we just haven’t found it yet.
    Marshall Dockery
    August 2008

  2. In good spirit, let me express the opinion that this is not a good thing to emphasize for Quakerism. We have beautiful values to work towards. Being open to all people is certainly one of the most important ones. However, please, let’s put the emphasis on the entire group of vales, and not isolate this to mention.

  3. Thanks for emphasizing the LISTENING.
    The miracle of Pentacost was not so much that people “SPOKE in tongues,” but rather that–by the gift& work of the Holy Spirit–they were able to HEAR and understand and accept each other, across the linguistic and ethnic and cultural barriers.
    This is precisely the Divine Blessing that I also have witnessed in and through FWCC.
    Praise God through whom all blessings flow!

  4. This selection had many very good thoughts. I was istracted, however, by the speaker’s ending many sentences and phrases in a “question” tone, i.e. on the upswing of pitch. It seems that with eh “question mode” she is not really sure of what she says. I will listen again and try to ignore what distracts me.

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