Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Lenten Discipline of Language Study

My Lenten discipline this year is another Cantonese course.

How's it going, you may ask?

Well, see those guys on bike in the picture?  Can you tell what kind of a road they are on?  Just after I snapped this picture, the guy in the back landed on his butt in the shrubbery.  I didn't have the moxy to take his picture then.

But that's how my Cantonese is progressing. 

One humiliation after another.

So in addition to my still new job as Coordinator of International Student Affairs and Mekong Mission Assistant Coordinator (that mouthful wonderfully depicts both the fascinating range and woefully wide disarray of tasks which I am still sorting out) I am also hauling my derriere over to the Tai Wai subway station, changing trains twice, fighting the rush hour hordes to get to my two hour intensive Cantonese class on Wednesday and Friday nights.

It's not called an intensive class, but for me it is.  Very.

I sit through two alternately agonizing and comical hours of attempting to get my mouth, my memory and my mind's eye to work together to string together a comprehensible sentence in Cantonese, while a dozen other students, mostly a couple of decades younger than I, look on in either deep sympathy or undepleted boredom (I can't always tell which).

I am that person I do not, ever, want to be.  The worst in the class.

Afterwards, I take the three train lines back to Tai Wai walk the 15 minutes back to our home, and lie awake for a couple of hours, unwanted fragments of Cantonese crowding my head.

Researching the meaning of Lenten disciplines, I found this quote:
 "A discipline won’t bring you closer to God. Only God can bring you closer to Himself. What the discipline is meant to do is to help you get yourself, your ego, out of the way so you are open to His grace." (James Kushiner)

Each Wednesday and Friday night Cantonese class I am reminded how damned full of myself I really am. How much pride I take in my word choice, nuance, powers of communication, knowledge. Maybe, little by little, there is some important emptying going on with me this Lent.

So, today, as I was walking down the hill from the seminary, I had a two and a half minute conversation with our street cleaner.  In Cantonese.  And she seemed pleased to listen to me sputter out my responses.  I've been smiling ever since.

The guy on the bike in the picture? He fell, but he got up and rode on.

How is your Lenten discipline going?

"Let this same mind be in you that you have in Christ Jesus, who... emptied himself...  in human form, he humbled himself..."       Philippians 2:5-8


  1. Christa, Cantonese? IMPRESSIVE! I know a kid at Harvard whose goal in taking that language was to at least not laugh when hearing it. You have already surpassed that. I love the tie in with a Lenten discipline- getting ourselves out of the way so as to open to His grace. And the guy on the bicycle is the perfect metaphor. Yes, it is great to connect with you via MarathonAngel. Thanks for keeping it going!

  2. Thanks for your kind comment Julie! As you will see from the most recent post, there's a reason I haven't posted lately, but you encourage me to keep going... with the language AND the blog :)