Saturday, September 11, 2010

Comfort Zones and Second Languages

Last Sunday I joined several of my Daughters of Hawaii sisters, along with members of the Hawaiian Royal Societies, at a service at St. Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral honoring the birthday of our last reigning monarch, Queen Lili'uokalani.  It should have been a very familiar service.  It wasn't.

It wasn't the service that was different, but the language.  It was mostly in Hawaiian, from the lovely solo chanting of the processional right through to the closing hymn.  One of the two lessons was read in English, as were the prayers of consecration.  The sermon was preached in English. Announcements?  English.  Everything else was in Hawaiian. We were a part of the regularly scheduled Hawaiian language Mass offered weekly at St. Andrew's.

Hawaiian is a beautiful, melodious language, but I am not a Hawaiian speaker.  I can read the words, but have to work at everything new.  I can grasp the meaning of what I am reading if I am familiar with the English version of the text, but in most cases I am reading words with no understanding of what they mean.  In my struggle with the language, I lost the experience of worship. I was out of my comfort zone.   I left feeling frustrated instead of nourished.

Suddenly it dawns on me that this is the same experience shared by immigrants to the US.  The language is different, and therefore strange.  If I recognize every third or fourth word, do I really understand what is being said?  How can I learn this new language if no one in my daily life uses or understands it?  How can I build a vocabulary in meaningful context?  Is there someone patient enough to help me through this barrier?

What happens when I travel?   Even English-speakers from different parts of the world give different meanings to common words.  Nappies or diapers?  Suspenders or braces?  Fanny?  Accepted slang, or rude and crude?  Note that Americans wear fanny packs, while in the UK they wear bum bags.

Walk through the market, or explore a cookbook.  What in the world is a Swede? (a rutabaga, not necessarily a citizen of Sweden.)  Caster sugar? (sold in the US as baker's sugar)  Treacle? (Molasses, but I am not sure if it differentiates between dark and light varieties) Sultana? (golden raisins, usually made from Thompson Seedless grapes).  In Hawaii we have gulches and streams.  In California we are likely to call them canyons and creeks -- often pronounced cricks.  Farther east, they become valleys and rivers.

As we remember that today is the anniversary of that terrible day in September 2001, let us celebrate our humanity, give thanks for the diversity that gives us breadth and strength, work to get beyond our differences such as language or accent or even where we worship.  Celebrate the lives of those who were lost that day, American or not.  Celebrate the courage of those who responded to help in whatever way they could.

Happy birthday, Eleanor!

Don't forget to pray....

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