Blog 8

Listening to language, understanding each other

Since beginning this blog, I have been thinking of writing about language. And since beginning this blog, I’ve been avoiding it. For processing the mysteries of language(s) is more than I can hope to even reflect on in one blog post and certainly much more than I myself understand.

But I also need to accept the assignment (from myself) and just write. So some brief thoughts about some of my thoughts on languages.

Very simply, I am conscious of language and of languages every day in Indonesia. I am conscious of hoping to understand others and hoping to be understood. I am conscious that I know very little of Bahasa Indonesia, the national language of the country in which I reside. I am conscious that it is normal for Indonesians to speak multiple languages. I am conscious, as always, that I have a lot to learn.

I am also conscious that a language is a gift. The more we learn of a language (including the first languages we learn), the more of that gift we received. The more languages we learn, the more gifts we receive.

A language also is a worldview, a particular way of understanding and processing the world. Through it we comprehend name realities of nature and culture and other persons and God. It is through language that we make sense of what our senses sense. And it is through language that we communicate to others our own understanding of the world.

To learn a language is seek to understand another’s point of view. It likewise expands our own worldview, giving us new ways of thinking about the world.

To learn a language is to bridge a gap to another person, another culture, to seek to understand and be understood.

This is certainly true for other persons in the present. I seek to expand my knowledge of Bahasa Indonesia so that I can better understand my students and colleagues. Yes, their English is excellent, but to know these persons more fully I must learn their language, their particular way of processing the world. The more fully I know Bahasa Indonesia, the more fully I can know those fellow humans who think, and most often speak and listen, in that language.

This is also true for persons of the past. We learn languages to read, hear, understand what people from the past wrote, said, communicated, as well. I am celebrating this approach now through a translation project, a bilingual edition of the poetry and prose of Germany’s first female poet laureate, Christiane Mariane von Ziegler. I’m particularly living with, and translating, her writings on three topics of great importance to her (and expressed, of course, in her native German): poetry, music, and women’s rights.

So I urge you: listen closely in every language. Seek to share with others the ways you understand and process the world. Listen to others: let them share with you the ways they understand and process the world. Listen in your own language. Listen in the languages of others. Listen and seek to understand.

Music students and faculty, Southeast Asia Bible Seminary, May 2018
Music students and faculty, Southeast Asia Bible Seminary, May 2018

___lawn ___avocados ___beauty ___call bro.

The same could be said of beauty. It should not exist.

There is not only no reason for it, but an argument against.

Yet undoubtedly it is, and is different from ugliness.

Czesław Miłosz, “One More Day”


Very simply, we yearn for beauty. And this yearning is fundamental to who we are as humans.

And as Czesław Miłosz reminds us in “One More Day,” beauty is not utilitarian, it does not “accomplish” anything for us or get something done. But it exists.

(And don’t give me that “What is beauty?” nonsense—you know it when you see it/hear it/experience it.)

I love the way Tony Hoagland likewise reminds us of this in a down-to-earth, day-by-day way in his poem “The Word” (from Sweet Ruin, University of Wisconsin Press, 1992):

The Word

Tony Hoagland

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between “green thread”
and “broccoli” you find
that you have penciled “sunlight.”

Resting on the page, the word
is as beautiful, it touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent you from some place distant
as this morning — to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing

that also needs accomplishing
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds

of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder

or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue

but today you get a telegram,
from the heart in exile
proclaiming that the kingdom

still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

–to any one among them
who can find the time,
to sit out in the sun and listen.

Join us in ART/PHIL 331, Aesthetics, this fall to continue the conversation. But again, very simply, a yearning for beauty is fundamental to who we are as humans, all humans, of all times and places.

Which is why we seek it out . . .

  • in artworks
  • in everyday objects
  • in fabric and clothing
  • in our food
  • in our actions and activities
  • in our relationships
  • in our own life

Which is why we create it . . .

  • in artworks
  • in everyday objects
  • in fabric and clothing
  • in our food
  • in our actions and activities
  • in our relationships
  • in our own life

Remember . . .

Good is stronger than evil.

Love is as practical as your coffee grinder or spare tire.

Beauty undoubtedly exists, and it is stronger than non-beauty.

So don’t forget to put “beauty” on your to-do list for today. And seek it out. And create it.

Our lives depend on it.