Q Last month my 96-year-old father passed away. He was raised on a prairie farm during the Depression and served in World War II; he had seen it all, and faith language shone through his everyday speech with natural grace. His final week was a holy one as every day four generations of us were gathered in his room. Moved by gratitude for his life, I was also struck by the difficulty the three younger generations had in using faith language as he did. What has changed?
A What a gift of grace the Lord gave in your father! I’m not sure that his ease in using faith language can be ascribed to his generation, but your question rings with poignancy nonetheless.
Using faith language naturally is indeed a grace—and a challenging discipline to grow into. Our everyday speech tends to either lean to the secular in which God is absent, or to a kind of detached spirituality in which God somehow floats above the ordinary messiness of everyday life.
When I was in elementary school, we had to learn 20 vocabulary words every week for spelling, meaning, and usage. We were also trained to use them in the classroom so they become part of our “normal.” After many weeks and even years of this, we grew to use rich vocabularies naturally.
Faith language also requires learning new and deeper vocabulary and phrasing that we are trained to use through disciplined practice. Your father’s deathbed was also a holy language lab. I know one congregation whose pastor coaches the congregation to speak naturally in faith language as your father did. Maybe more of us should do what he does.
—Syd Hielema is a team leader for CRC Discipleship and Faith Formation Ministries. He is a member of Meadowlands Christian Reformed Church in Ancaster, Ontario.