"But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:24b-28)
Every day I hear the Babel-like cacophony of languages burbling up from the massive crowds that merge and converge all over Hong Kong. Simply walking down the street I hear Finnish, French, German, Hindu, Cantonese, Tagalog, and many other language I can't quite identify. I love it. This morning on the subway a man and a woman got on and I heard them speaking in French. They stood next to me and the man reached out to hold the handrail I was also holding on to. I smiled shyly and said "Bonjour." (digging deep into the 4+ years of French I had in high school/college...) He said something to the effect of, "Oh, you speak French?" to which I responded "Un peu!" (a little). When they got off in Admiralty we said "au revoir." (side note: I was actually listening to my Pimsleur Tagalog lesson for the day so it was strange speaking French, thinking in English, and listening to Tagalog.)
I love it when simple interactions like that creep into my day. Connections waiting to be made in all sorts of places and with all sorts of people. As I was walking home on Tuesday a girl stopped me to talk about Save the Children and through our conversation I found out her brother is in Nashville studying Law at Vanderbilt. (and playing music.) Small world!!
Yet there are times when language fails.
Not only because I may not know enough of someone else's language to communicate effectively (or they may not know enough English to understand me), but sometimes even if we do speak a common language words can be hard to find. What do you say to someone who has been ripped off by their employment agency for thousands of pesos? How do you comfort someone whose employer treats them like an animal or manipulates them into thinking they are worthless? What about when you are sitting in a courtroom, she is in the dock (the partitioned area where the accused sits), and the judge pronounces a guilty verdict? You cannot physically comfort her nor can you say anything to her. For someone who longs to 'gather her brood under her wings' (a la Luke 13:34) it is very difficult for me when I am unable to express solidarity, or empathy, or comfort to those suffering injustice.
Yet I have hope. In the same way that I hope for what I cannot see (justice, someone's well-being) the Holy Spirit is there to guide my heart. I don't know what to pray for, what to hope for, but I trust that the Holy Spirit does. My own desire to have the right words to say, to know the right thing to do for someone gets in the way. But God has this great way of taking bad situations and using them for good--I look to the story of Joseph, whose brothers threw him in a well and sold him into slavery. When his brothers realized who he was, years later when they had come to Egypt to escape famine, they fell before him and proclaimed themselves his servants. "But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." (Genesis 50:19-20)
Simply being there is enough. Bearing witness, holding a hand (if you can), sitting in silence. Listening. Job, that sufferer who bore so much, even had friends that came and sat with him. “When Job's three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.” (Job 2:11, 13)
When we let go of the desire to be the source of someone's comfort, to say or do the 'right' thing, we make room for the Holy Spirit to move through us. The Holy Spirit can connect us with words (like when I practice my Tagalog and the whole office laughs and cheers "Angaling!") and through silence (like when I sit with someone who has just been terminated unjustly).
Grace and Peace,