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That's not what I meant

BY REV DR JOHN FRAUENFELDER

They met at a party. Maria was a third-generation university student from an Italian/Irish family and he was a doctoral student from Iran. Despite their differences in just about everything, they fell in love and married. That was 25 years and four children ago.

Their relationship has had its difficult moments, to be sure. Bridging two such different cultures and histories and religions and languages has not been without its challenges. As Maria explains in an article, “A Marriage’s Cultural Missteps”, their life together required extraordinary sensitivity and listening:

We muddled through some memorable 'that's not what I meant' episodes that were made worse by our different cultural perspectives. Masoud's English was near perfect, but he was prone to mix up his words and this caused unnecessary arguments. Once I was insulted because he called me 'durable' when, in fact, he was trying to tell me I was 'adorable.' Then, too, language is more than words. He was raised in a Muslim culture where men and women avoid direct eye contact, but I found it disconcerting that he would not look at me when talking.

Time and again, we resorted to rounds of bickering - 'You have no culture' and 'Why are you so Iranian?' - that left hurt feelings and stirred mutual doubt about our marital compatibility. But a marriage is more than stereotypes. Commitment to our relationship has meant a willingness to clarify our statements to each other and learn to decipher the hidden meanings behind what the other says.

With time, I have learned that Farsi is characterised by elaborate linguistic courtesy that generally avoids confrontation. Masoud's habit of answering 'thank you' to every request instead of a definitive 'yes' or 'no' is his way of being polite. And gradually he has realised that my cheerful optimism doesn't mean that I am always happy."

Maria and Masoud know all too well the reality that "marriage is unpredictable and complicated, a never-ending and sometimes painstaking process of give-and-take that still allows for our cultural differences."

The real miracle of Pentecost (Acts 2) is one of listening: The Spirit of God overcomes the barriers of language and perception, opening not only the crowds' minds but their hearts to hear the word of God spoken by Peter and the Eleven. The Spirit enables us to listen to the voice of God in the context of God's compassion and peace, enabling us to hear what God actually speaks and not what we want or hope to hear. 

As on Pentecost, God's Spirit continues to speak in the love of the Beatitudes, in the forgiveness of the prodigal's father, in the generosity of the Good Samaritan, in the hope of the resurrection. 

God's Spirit enables a wife and husband to love enough to listen with their hearts, to discern one another's real meaning that is much deeper than the imperfect, imprecise words they "say" to one another.   

The gift of Pentecost faith enables us to hear the voice of God speaking in the midst of the clamour and busyness, the pain and despair, of our lives, inviting us to embrace the life and love of God in our homes and hearts.   


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