When I begin writing a new post, as I'm doing now, I often feel as eager and as nervous as a boy placing a wrist corsage on his prom date: equal parts anticipation and anxiety.
(And blessed be the person who invented wrist corsages ― allowing boys everywhere to avoid the awkwardness of pinning sharp pearl-headed needles on the bodices of their dates, their fingers a-fumbling, as her mother snaps photographs.)
I have never been the sort of person to do things by half-measure; I'm the kind of guy who falls in love at first sight and who eats at buffets without worrying about food poisoning; who skips in the hallways at work and likes to ride on public transit where I can meet strangers. Consider me the Nicean's Creed worst nightmare ― full bodied with parts and passions aplenty.
That's why when I'm asked, "Tim, how do you come up with things to write about?" I respond, "It's not having something to say (there's much we haven't even scratched the surface of yet), but figuring out the right way to sayit that's hard."
This is the reason I feel butterflies in my stomach at the moment, fumbling for the right words that might infuse our topic with the Spirit. Frequently I lament as Joseph Smith did:
"Oh, Lord, deliver us in due time from the little, narrow prison, almost as it were, total darkness of paper, pen and ink ― and a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language."
(Joseph Smith to William W. Phelps, November 27, 1832, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and BYU Press, 2002), 284-87.)
I believe in the proposition that "truth is manifest in the proving of contraries." That's why you often see me taking a contrary view; it helps us see the opposite side more clearly. Distance often brings perspective.
And so together, arm-in-arm like Hansels and Gretels, we shall seek for the heavenly tongue, a pure language to express wonderful things better intuited in the Spirit than articulated, by holding each other ― and contraries ― close.
But beware: following the trail of breadcrumbs as often leads to the witch's house as to home.
A Linguistic for Love
Sometimes I wish I had studied linguistics in college because I'm intrigued by the philosophy of words and sounds.
What is spoken language, after all, but noise? It is all nonsensical ― that is, until we form words from those sounds.
If I were in Hong Kong and heard someone speak Cantonese, there would be no understanding because I don't share a common tongue with the speaker.
Now, can the same thing be said of love? Are things "lost in translation" when we don't share a common bond of love?
And so we must search for the origin of language.
Their children [Adam and Eve's] were taught to read and write, having a language [love] which was pure and undefiled. . . according to the pattern given by the finger of God; and it [was] given in [their] own language.
(Moses 6:6, 46)
That's wonderful, of course, but we no longer have a "pure and undefiled" language. Or a pure love.
How, then, are we to commune with God as if our tongues had been cut out and our hearts had grown hard?
Enter: real intent.
Have you ever wondered how words are created? Modern English is a hodge-podge of Danish, Norse, and French.
But who got to decide that "waffle" means a delicious breakfast food; and at the same time, describes halting between two opinions?
The person who creates or discovers something new gets to name it, right? Why do you think we call Jesus "the Word"? Because He is the Creator who gave us names, who called us forth and whose voice formed us.
And what is a name, but a word? And what is a word, but sound? And what is sound, but breath? And what is the breath of life, but meaning? And what is meaning, but light? And what is light, but glory?
So we see: glory is found in the name of God.
In your name.
Calls His Sheep By Name
How do we know what a particular sound means? Is it because our parents taught us that "cow" is that animal over there eating grass? Or that Joshua-cum-Jesus-cum-Jehovah-is-Salvation is that Man over there healing the leper and comforting the harlot?
You see, sounds are meaningless in-and-of-themselves, until someone teaches us what they mean. Christ taught us the meaning of His name, and it is love.
When enough people get together and form a society, they need a common tongue to communicate or there could be no united action; no coordinated labor; no shared vision.
And so we all consent to a construct in which "blue" means blue; and marriage means monogamy; and God means . . . what? What does the term God refer to? Dieu. Allah. Elohim.
Likewise, when a group of people get together and love each other with charity, they communicate heart-to-heart as with the tongue of angels (because the angels speak the words of Christ, which is to say, love).
My point is, language is a function (creation) of community, in which we are all "one minded" and swear allegiance to the meaning of "hamburger" ― policed by dictionaries and librarians and 3rd Grade grammarians; or in the spiritual realm, by mercy and justice and wisdom.
Have you ever heard someone speak your language with an accent? That's one way to tell they are not a "native" speaker.
What does love look like from non-natives? If we teleported backwards in time to Tudor England, could we understand a lick of anything a British person speaking English 500 years ago said? Could they understand us?
Let's assume for a moment that we are the foreigners, the aliens, the non-native speakers in heaven. If we stayed overnight in Kolob, how foolish would we sound to the bellhop?
Are we beginning to see that we need a common spiritual tongue when it comes to charity, with which to commune with the Church of the Firstborn?
Jesus Christ is the Logos of Love.
Jesus teaches us the meaning of love as if He were teaching Helen Keller to read and write; and we're all Helen Keller, spiritually-speaking: deaf, blind and mute.
Just to make His job more complicated, remember that language diverges and forks between the written word and spoken word.
You may not have thought of it this way, but there are really two entirely different forms of English: identical and utterly different; one seen and one heard; one spoken with lips to make sound, and one written by hand to make symbolic etchings.
Like musical notation, a person might hold sheet music and have no idea what it would sound like if played on the piano. Or a person could sit down at the piano and play something beautiful, but have no idea how to transcribe it onto paper.
Both written and spoken language share the same goal: to convey meaning.
And that is just our native tongue! When we account for translation from Chinese to English (transposing music written for the clarinet as you play the violin), there isn't a direct equivalence (word for word) because each language has its own vocabulary and grammar.
Without a translator, we'd be lost. There would be no way for an Egyptian to communicate with an American, or a telestial being to communicate with a celestial being (despite what the movie Stargate would have us believe).
Practice Pointer: the Holy Ghost (the Spirit) is a Translator; he manifests the things of God to those of us who are illiterate.
But here's the good news: we can become "translators", too! We can become bilingual by learning to speak the language of the Spirit.
Translating the Will of God
When we talk about obtaining "the will" of the Lord, what we're asking for is to become translators; to perceive the meaning of the Lord's desire for us which is communicated in a way that we comprehend it.
When we become translators, we begin to understand God in a new way.
Jesus is the greatest Translator of all: He "comprehendeth all things" (D&C 88:41).
Whatever sinful, forked, fallen tongue we may speak with, and address Him with, He understands us.
And with understanding comes compassion.
Gift of Tongues
As a missionary in Paris it took me months to understand a tiny bit of what the natives were saying (now I can order off a menu, but don't ask me to pass any medical boards in French. Or English, for that matter).
You see, the written word is often garbled in our mouths. When I say, "I dunno", you know what I mean; but someone who learned English in the classroom may not understand because they learned the textbook-formal-way of saying: "I-do-not-know," pronouncing each syllable as if holding audience with the Queen.
Speaking of linguistic limitations, you've seen me quote Le Petit Prince where it says "Words are a source of misunderstanding" (le langage est source de malentendus). This is why we have multiple translations of the same text. Why do so many New Testament scholars translate the Greek differently? Whose translation is "exact" (none of them) or at least the most correct?
Ah, now we see a spiritual problem we face in the Church: while the Lord's voice is pure and singular, the way we interpret and "translate" it differs based on our culture and experiences.
The Lord could be speaking to my wife and me so that we both "hear" Him, but our translations may vary in the details.
We see this in the scriptures; while the Standard Works contain the words of God, the prophets do not speak univocally; they each speak the word of God with slightly different accents.
This invariably leads to confusion and causes contention over the Lord's points of doctrine (see 2 Nephi 3:12).
But it gets worse! The interesting thing about language (at least ones like English; maybe not Adamic) is that we can deceive with our words. In fact, we can "lie" while technically speaking the truth.
So language makes comprehension possible, but is also the means by which confusion is created.
Heaven help us!
Curve Ball: If we're talking about angels who communicate using telepathy, or the Holy Ghost that speaks into our "minds and hearts" (D&C 8), we face a whole new conundrum.
Can we even call it "language" if we're not using sound waves or symbols ― as the angels and Spirit attempt to convey meaning directly into our minds and heart?
How does an angel "speak" into our minds? Are their "words" filtered through our own experiences?
Just like when we learn to speak a foreign language (that opens our minds to new ideas and connotations), so too does the language of the Spirit increase our awareness.
Our cognitive awareness (spiritual consciousness) is somewhat limited by the words we have. Dr. Seuss can write a nice book like Cat in the Hat with only 236 words (did you know Green Eggs and Ham only has 50 different words?).
But you'll need over 16,000 unique words (!) to write the Bible.
Now imagine if we knew all the languages on earth and all the vocabulary in heaven! How would our awareness expand? Would our comprehension extend to the furthest reaches of the cosmos?
Would we be able to consider things we're currently not able to fathom ― or even conceive of ― because of our linguistic prisons?
How else could we ever hope to peer into the very mind of God?
Babel and Black Swans
Thanks to the Tower of Babel (whether figurative or literal is not important for our purposes), we encounter the problem of "confounding" communication.
I can say potato and be thinking of a russet potato and you are picturing a yukon gold. I can hear someone give a talk on tithing and hear "priestcraft"; someone else may listen to the same talk about hear, "I need to sacrifice more."
All this highlights the fact that the universal translator the Spirit uses (which bridges all differences) is love.
The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.
Charity joins what is separate, rendering one person's conscientious choice to not pay tithing as valid, and at the same time another person's choice to pay tithing as equally valid.
How can that be? How can two people interpret God's will differently, and behave in opposite ways, and still both be "right"? And remain "one"?
God's gift of charity allows for diversity of thought and behavior; His love allows two people who speak entirely different languages to communicate in a way that both are edified, without control or compulsory means.
Love also opens a door in which we can communicate ideas and spiritual truths to those who have no way to contextualize them because they haven't experienced them before.
I mean, wasn't that what Jesus was doing? Sharing the mystery of God (mysteries of Godliness) with those of us whose lesser "intelligence" make it hard to grasp the truth?
The Black Swan theory states that if a person has only seen white swans, then they have no reason to believe black swans exist. So they make rational decisions and go about their lives without a second thought given to black swans.
The problem arises when, one day, their life is turned upside-down because they encounter a black swan. Now their paradigm has to account for a new factor.
With God, we continually encounter "Black Swans." Our spiritual lives are dynamic because He keeps elevating us, opening our eyes to new, greater realities.
The Church, in my opinion, has a "White Swan" problem. We are so committed to there being ONLY white swans (such as a heteronormative heaven) that God cannot "speak" to us because our minds are held captive by our dearly-held white-swan-beliefs.
If God by chance showed us a Black Swan, what would happen? Experience shows that we would likely find ways to try to get it to fit our "mold"; or we would reject it and go back to our old ways of understanding things.
What is God whispering to our hearts that we are unwilling to listen to?
Hearing God's Voice
Remember how long it took you to learn to talk as a baby? No? Well, ask your parents. It took years.
And we didn't start speaking in complete sentences all at once. Even when we did start holding conversations with our parents, our knowledge was pretty much limited to labeling things and figuring out how they worked. "Stove. Hot. No touchy."
That's probably the level we're currently at in our progression. "Heart. Broken. Love you."
Then our parents shipped us off to boarding school so we could continue to learn greater skills and how to use our forks at fancy dinners with polite manners.
I'm in my 40s and I am still learning words! All my life I've used the idiom, "Chomping at the bit," until someone corrected me: "It's champing at the bit." What?
"Champing stems from an old Middle English word that has been around for at least 600 years and relates to the grinding of a horse’s teeth." (Grammarist.com)
Who knew? Spiritually, we are all going around using words incorrectly.
But that's okay; we're learning! You know the most effective way to improve a young child's language skills? Reading to them; hearing becomes linked to seeing the words on the page.
Let me repeat: Hearing becomes linked to seeing (you see where I am going with this?). How can we "see" Christ if we can't "hear" Him?
But the reverse is also true: sometimes it is easier to "see" than to hear, such as when the Lord appeared to the Nephites in 3 Nephi 11 and they saw a man descend but had trouble hearing the voice.
When the Lord invites us to "hear" Him, we have to learn to speak with a new tongue; when the Lord invites us to "see" Him, we have to learn to see with new eyes.
When our eyes become bilingual, then:
The veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am [I AM]― not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual.
In this way the scriptures create an equivalency between "deafness" and "darkness" ― both refer to spiritual sensory deprivation.
What is God? We Are
I am stumbling over myself to make the point that you are God. That might sound odd, as if I were speaking Chinese, but remember what Joseph Smith taught?
Watch for Joseph's use of the word "comprehend":
"If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves."
God's will is not alien to us; we would do well to stop treating God's will as something external.
Why? Because God's will is in fact within us. Already. This very moment.
He who came unto his own was not comprehended. [see the problem? We didn't share a common tongue]
The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not. [how do we comprehend God? Is that possible?] The day shall come when you shall comprehend even God, [okay, you have my attention. Tell us how, please!] being quickened in him and by him. [what does that mean?]
Then shall ye know ye have seen [heard] me, [really? we have?] that I am [I AM], and that I am [I AM] the true light that is in you.
"I am the true light that is in you."
We do not find God "out there" by looking up; we find Him by looking within.
If we can't hear Him, it is because we have not learned to listen to ourselves; our own divine voice remains Greek to our mind's eye.
Practice Pointer: The Holy Ghost is "a Revelator" in the sense he helps us to translate the word of God (in us) into language our spirits (in us) can comprehend.
We each hold within our hearts the "record of heaven."
It is given to abide IN YOU; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.
And now, behold, I say unto you: THIS is (!) the plan of salvation unto all men.
Umm, what's that? The "plan of salvation"? Wait, where is the covenant path on this list?