The Mother Tongue of Love
by Catherine Fournier
used with permission
"Oh, you're just like me at your age!," my mother-in-law used to exclaim. "I was so stupid!" After several years, I finally said (as politely as I could between clenched teeth,) "Please don't call me stupid."
Baba was shocked and horrified to realize what she had been saying. A first generation Canadian raised in a small village in Manitoba, her mother tongue is Ukrainian. She still thinks in that language and typically only translates her rush of words somewhere between her tongue and her teeth.
She apologized profusely, protesting that I was dearer to her than her own son, (one of the nicer aspects of Ukrainian matriarchy,) and she only meant that she had once been as enthusiastic and careless with her energy as I then was, with four children under the age of seven, renovating a series of houses and immersed in several volunteer projects. For my part, I regretted simmering so long over a mis-understanding. Since then, whenever a 'Baba-ism' surfaces, we work together to translate it into something we both understand.
Rudyard Kipling's famous story "The Jungle Book" was inspired by tales of a 'wild boy,' raised by wolves and discovered in the countryside of France in the 1800's. His adoptive family named him Vincent, and reported that he adapted to civilized life with difficulty. After much effort he eventually learned to bathe, dress, sit on a chair and feed himself with knife and fork. But Vincent never learned to speak.
Parents teach children language by talking to them, gently correcting their mistakes, and encouraging them to talk. Each child has inborn tendency and ability for many things, a parent's role is to help them learn and develop. Vincent didn't receive that vital parental guidance and training. His childhood without language eventually atrophied his ability to ever learn it. Tragically, he had no mother tongue.
Love is the language of Heaven. That Love which is the Trinity, that created Heaven and earth, Adam and Eve, you and I, is the way God communicates with us. It is His language. In the same way that the Ukrainian language influences the way my mother-in-law thinks and communicates, Love shapes and guides all of Heaven and earth.
As God's children from the moment of our conception and through baptism, Love should be our 'mother tongue.'
We all have the inborn tendency and ability for Love but, like everything else, it must be learned. For every child, parental love is a reflection of God's love. Parental love is our first communication of God's love, and gives us our first experience of speaking and thinking in God's language. It influences and shapes our lives. How we learn love from our parents will influence how well we 'speak' Love, how we love and respond to God, our spouse, our children and ourselves.
Some of us don't learn this language in our childhood. For whatever reason, we aren't exposed to love, or the teaching is damaged in some way. The language of Love - our heritage as God's children - isn't our mother tongue.
Some never learn to love, as Vincent never learned to speak.
Others (perhaps many of us) learn it late in life and imperfectly, like a second language. We work throughout our lives to use God's language, as my mother-in-law still works to use English. Thought, action and prayer, rather than being a joyful, un-self-conscious communication and communion between God and His children, can be self-conscious translation, constant effort. Translation errors abound, as does the temptation to simply resign ourselves to silence.
Yet, imagine a young woman who moves to a foreign land. While there she marries a native of the country. She, her husband and their children live in that foreign country for the rest of her life. Our young woman will learn to speak the language, and may even become quite fluent, but for her, speaking in this second tongue will always involve some effort. Rather than resign herself to silence, she'll persist, knowing and ensuring that it's her children's mother tongue.
So it is with God's language of Love. With our persistence, what we learn late and imperfectly can be our children's mother tongue, their heritage as God's children. They may even be able to translate for us, once in a while.