I did not get to watch Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri speak in Spanish as the newly elected co-moderator of the 223rdGeneral Assembly, being held this week in St. Louis. But I read how she switched into her native tongue from the news summary. A reader’s comment noted how the Spanish was not quoted in the body of the article. The Spanish, then, was only an abstract idea.
I took Latin in high school, allegedly because I was trying to improve my SAT score. (In my experience, this supposed benefit is about as mythic as “The Aeneid.”) More truthfully, I knew that I would not be required to speak a dead language. I was far happier with a translation dictionary as my only conversation partner. When in seminary, I learned Greek, Hebrew and German. However, I was not trained to speak conversationally – rather, it was more akin to solving a written text like my younger brother teaches math equations. I was all in my head.
A few years ago, the same brother gifted me with a Spanish-speaking themed Christmas present ahead of my trip to Guatemala. A pocket dictionary, of course, but also a laminated copy ofPadre Nuestro …and a bottle of decent tequila. My brother explained that learning a new language meant I needed to loosen up a little!
My trip to Guatemala was taken, in part, to learn Spanish. I studied in the city of Xela — an indigenous name much easier to pronounce than the official Quetzaltenango. Mornings meant Spanish immersion classes. Afternoons I was free to roam the city, giving the furiously barking perrosa wide berth. I drank bottled water and ate in fast food chains. I roomed with a couple of fellow gringos. We conversed in English. Most nights, I slept fitfully in the hostel, dreaming of being lost in a boat at sea. I yelled, but without sound. A silent scream.
My Spanish is still poor. I’m not sure I would have understood Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri. But it strikes me that her Spanish text needs to be printed in that article. As much as it might scare us, we gringosneed to get out of our heads! We need the Spanish quoted in the body of the text. We need Spanish-speaking leaders in front of us. I’m hoping and praying that our election of Cintrón-Olivieriwill be an inspiration.
Like Cintrón-Olivieri, a parishioner I knew was from Puerto Rico. She had lived here, Estados Unidos, for decades; but when she suffered a stroke, she lost most of her English. A few weeks before yet another stroke proved fatal, she told me, “You must open to yourself.”
We need to get out of our comfort zones in order to open to all that God would do through us. We are members of the bodyof Christ. We must live into this reality, not simply lift up the ideal.
My final night in Guatemala, I went to a church service. Católica. But nothing like anything I’d seen or heard in any language! The worship band was hot, I mean, caliente.The horns were bright, the bass thumping. I did not need any tequila —la musicawas intoxicating! I barely understood about every other word, but the whole meaning was felt in my bones. As bodies spun and hands clapped, smiles lit up the room, and I thought Padre Nuestro … Santificado sea tu nombre.
ANDREW TAYLOR–TROUTMANis pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church, a congregation in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and has a certificate in narrative healthcare. His recent essays have been published online at Mockingbird and his poetry at Bearings. He and his wife, Ginny, have three children.