Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Words and Meanings - Boissery
(This is a guest post by Dr. Beverley Boissery formerly a legal historian. When she became a Christian, God switched her from writing about the law of treason to young adult fiction. She has since received a Canada Council award and won Word Guild awards for both Sophie's Rebellion and Sophie's Exile. She lives in Vancouver with her elderly and arthritic cat, Lillee. You may find her at www.boissery.com )
“Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words,” Professor Henry Higgins sang in My Fair Lady. I’m not sick of words, they actually fascinate me. But I am frustrated by them. When I look out my window I can easily count eleven different shades of green. The trees will finish blooming in a couple of weeks, and the meaning of “green” will become even more general. As a writer though, I need precision. The right words can capture, for example, a spectrum of political thought. As a Christian writer I want words to tell about God and also to scythe through muddled thinking.
If I tell you I am slightly left of centre politically, you know exactly what I mean and where you might expect me to line up on various issues. When I tell my secular friends that I have become a Christian, however, I encounter confusion.
“What kind?” they usually ask.
“The repentant kind,” I reply.
Conversation ceases. Memories are pummeled, vocabularies examined. “What do you mean by that?” some brave soul eventually asks, and I inwardly smile as I’m given this chance to talk about my Lord.
However, confusion abounds as well in the Christian realm. When I announce I’m a Christian to other Christians, the reactions are vastly different, and I find I’m supposed to use words in a way that defies my sense of logic. Rather than order a fatted calf for a barbecue, as in Luke 15, the reaction of many long-term Christians is usually, “When did you come to faith?”
Conversation stops as I ponder. I have faith in many things. When I finish these musings and press the Send key on my computer, I have faith that they will find their way to Ottawa. How, I don’t know. I do trust the process though, and that’s faith. I have faith that my microwave will cook food after I punch in the required cooking time. But when did I first experience faith is a question I can’t answer.
As a baby, did I ever consciously wonder that my mother might drop me? Did I ever work out that if I screamed long enough, she would feed me? Were such screams those of faith, manipulation, or desperation? Sensing my incomprehension, many ask a follow up question, “How did you come to faith?”
It took time to understand that question. I now know it means that I should explain how I became a Christian. Strangely enough, the story is easier to tell to my secular friends. Christians sometimes find my experience off-putting, because it concerns alcohol. God brought me to repentance and faith in the efficacy of the cross of Jesus in a restaurant.
How? Someone I respected kept insisting I read the gospel of John. In an effort to make the problem go away, I phoned Regent College in Vancouver, where I live, asked if it had a bookstore, and if the bookstore sold Bibles. (At that point in my life, I couldn’t imagine Chapters selling Bibles!) I drove to Regent, found that the bookstore sold stand-alone Gospels of John, and took myself off to a nearby restaurant. There I ordered a half litre of wine, settled myself in for the long haul and began reading.
I read John as I would any academic book. First of all, I tested the writing style. It seemed authentic and true to what I imagined the real John to be. I underlined as I read, checked off certain passages, wrote questions in the margin, and as I did this, God interacted with me. By the time I reached the end of chapter 14, I was a Christian. I walked out of the restaurant, the half-litre of wine barely touched, and went home to finish the gospel.
C.S. Lewis wrote that he got onto a bus as a theist and got off as a Christian. That was how it was for me. I did not know a single Christian (other than the person who kept insisting I read John). I did not have a single Christian friend. But, in his grace and mercy, God met me over a glass of red wine and gave me salvation.
You know, as I think back to that experience, my frustration with words seems rather petty. I don’t really care that Christian-ese is full of nonsense. I don’t even care that the current buzz-phrase is that our prayers be “intentional.” Of course, I intend to pray when I pray. But getting the subject back to God, to where it should be. Who I am? How do I define myself?
I am the person for whom Christ died. I am the person so deeply loved by God that he sent Jesus to that horrible death. I am the person who is desperately grateful that Jesus battled evil and overcome death to sit at his Father’s right hand. I am the person who, filled with joy and love, looks forward to a future where words won’t be meaningless, ambiguous, or frustrating. In that future, I won’t be worrying about them at all when I sing praises to my God.
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