Here are two related quotes I rediscovered today in Eugene Peterson’s outstanding book Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers:
Jesus, equally at home in heaven and on earth, equally at home in his “Father’s house” and in Joseph and Mary’s house, used the same language–personal, metaphorical, particular, relational, local–wherever he happened to be, whether in the synagogue or out on the street, and with whomever he was talking to, whether a Samaritan or God. He didn’t debase the holy into the secular; he infused the secular with the holy. (268)
I want to eliminate the bilingualism that we either grow up with or acquire along the way of growing up: one language for talking about God and the things of God, salvation, and Jesus, singing hymns and going to church; another language we become proficient in as we attend school, get jobs, play ball, go to dances, and buy potatoes and blue jeans. One language for religion and another for everything else, each with its own vocabulary and tone of voice. I want to break down the walls of partition that separate matters of God and prayer from matters of getting food on the table and making a living. (267)
Peterson’s longing to eliminate bilingualism resonates deeply with me. However, what often results when we become aware of this discrepancy is the contrived usage of religious vocabulary in unnatural, attention-getting kinds of ways. It seems to me Peterson’s aim is not to embolden Christians to wear their religious vocabulary on their conversational sleeves or wave it around like a flag. In addition to destroying communication with those who don’t share our faith, such a practice would fail to heed Jesus’ repeated reminders not to show off our faith. Rather, his aim is to guide us into an awareness that we are being shaped as whole beings into the likeness of Christ, including our capacity for using language. It is vital, therefore, that we exercise great care when utilizing this gift of language we’ve been given.
What might it look like today for us, like Jesus, to infuse the secular with the holy? Surely to take up this task is to recognize that all language occurs in the context of relationships and to begin by recognizing Christ has called us to a new way of engaging in all our relationships. What if we saw every interaction with a cashier, every moment spent in attendance at ballgames, every encounter with a fellow driver on the road, every conversation with an employee, as an opportunity to infuse the secular with the holy? God only knows.