Grace Notes
A hopeful newspaper column ~ by Natalie Costanza-Chavez
God Words > A Field Trip, some Moons, and Translating God
A Field Trip, some Moons, and Translating God

Grace-Note #24 – ran on 5/29/05

A Field Trip, some Moons, and Translating God

Our children rode the school bus and we followed to the Boulder Planetarium. At each red light, seemingly a hundred white and brown little hands waved from the back windows. Field trip day.

Once we arrived, we leaned far back in our seats and peered at the giant hollow snow-cone-curved ceiling. “The inside of half a ping-pong ball,” said the kids. Big, empty, round, white.

They tried to settle. Not one of their small heads made it even part way up the back of the seat, so to visit, they had to pop up like Jack-in-the-Boxes, and lean far over the seat in front of them. It was pop-up, thunk down, giggle, pop up thunk down glee.

Then lights out. Stars streaming and swirling through the sudden black. Friendly robotic music, and then the voice over began: in Spanish. On one side of me sat Christina, on the other, Emma, nine year-olds fluent in Spanish and English, faces rapt and focused they laughed and pointed and nodded their heads. My son sat several seats to my right. A second language learner, he was working harder to understand the Spanish, but following right along.

I was left with my very minimal grasp of the language listening and staring at the pictures, trying to grab a phrase here or snatch a context there. Between infrequent moments of recognition, I had plenty of time to ponder; it was almost a given that I’d eventually muse about the David Bowie’s song that has poor Major Tom floating around space unattached and out of reach, and then move on to musing about God.

The kids all gasped and pointed at what looked like half a bagel plummeting through space. They understood what it was. I did not. And it was at that moment, with the tune from “Major Tom” (…can you hear me Major Tom..?) firmly stuck in my head, that I realized God does not speak English.

God speaks God. Not Greek or Latin or Arabic or American Sign Language – or Spanish. God only speaks God.

If we were perfect, we could understand, but we are not and so no one here on earth is even semi-fluent in God. We know un pequeño. Like me leaning back in that planetarium chair, the words swirling, craning my ears and my neck for something familiar and sparking in delight when I spotted what surely had to be the North Star – Estrella de Norte, we sometimes catch a phrase or two of God that we recognize.

We catch some God-Words. We feel some. We guess some. Love hurtles by and zings us, pulls at our mind-strings, guilt-springs, patience-strings, reminding. Hope can orbit and we recognize it. Sometimes we hear or see other familiar messages: prayer, charity, gentleness, honesty, goodness. But, never can we understand in full sentences, let alone paragraphs. Never can we fully translate or interpret God.

Oh, you’ll meet people who seem to think they know the language, who claim fluency. Had they been at the planetarium with us that day, they may have heard a few familiar words and told the rest of us they were coming straight from the lips of God, and then been happy to translate, down to the tiniest detail, every secret-coded and “for-certain-ears-only” truth.

When I was five, we lived in Spain. I told my Dad I had learned Spanish – “The ball-a is on the floor-a,” I said. “See Daddy? – that’s Spanish!”

No, it wasn’t. Keep that in mind next time someone claims to speak God. God is hard to understand and harder to translate. It should be all each of us can to do pay attention, keep up, and hang on for any tidbits or clues or give-away crumbs pointing us in the direction He might want us to go.

Love. Give. Serve. Judge not. Hold each other. Help each other. Be kind.

Some of the messages spark us with the light of “I got that! I understood!” But God makes us work for every word, or hint, or push. And that’s a nice teaching method: it begs to keep us humble and a little uncertain, and when it comes to God, we should be both.