In May of next year, I am to move from beautiful British Columbia to la belle province, and Montreal will once again be my home town. This time, however, I will learn French! I have already started, but it will take a long time until I can dare to show off what I have learned and blog in French. From 2001 to 2003, I lived and worked in Montreal, but it was almost entirely amongst anglophones. There had been very little opportunity to become proficient in the mother tongue of the vast majority of Quebecers. Now, I can learn it, and I look forward to getting to know Quebec from the perspective of those who have always been at home there.
I have been blogging for a year now. Much of it was about faith and science and what this means for Christian faith and ministry in the 21st century. Just a week ago, I preached another retreat day for young adults and students from the University of Victoria, and again my topic was the Franciscan view of creation. There is so much to be learned from the intuitions of St. Francis, which keep us from the false choice between scientistic environmentalism and fundamentalist creationism. Neither of them recognizes the dignity of the human person within creation, rather than over or against nature as a brute fact. Francis’s intuition was to see how the human person’s dignity in reaching out to God and singing God’s praises was framed by all of creation’s praising God.
When I look back at my writing and the retreats that I preached since I came to Vancouver Island two years ago, I can see a definite theme emerging. It is all about how to make sense of our faith while living life dependent on the scientific-technological culture. It is hard to deny the worldview of the sciences while being dependent on their power. However, the best way of speaking of the most fundamental building blocks of reality is not the language of science, but it is the language of persons. Understanding reality is not through understanding the abstractions of science, the abstractions that lead to elementary particles and their properties. Instead, it is by understanding the philosophical concept of personhood. This is how we reach true understanding—of ourselves, our relationships with each other, with all of creation, and with our creator. Much has been learned about atoms, but persons are more real than atoms. This does not deny the reality of the world of physics and what is learned from it, but it puts it in its place within the larger context that it needs lest it becomes meaningless.
But, what is a person? One of the students asked me this. I admitted that I could not define the term. Indeed, what it is to be a person is to defy external definition, the type of definition that captures and subordinates you to the understanding of another. Being a person is being able to disclose yourself, to share yourself, after recognizing yourself in the self-disclosure of other persons. It is never just a thing or a property. It is much more fundamental. The being of persons is in their self-possession, their mutual recognition, and the respect and dignity that arises from it. Any definition falls short of what it is, as it is what is there before the defining begins.
Language is how persons express themselves and share their being. This is what makes language so important. It is actually a privilege that I can write in a language that is not simply my mother tongue, just the language that I have always spoken, but a language that I learned, with full consciousness of that I was learning it and why I was learning it. Learning it brought to my full awareness what a gift it is to speak a language and to be able to communicate, to reach out to others, and to share my thoughts with them.
I look forward to learning another one!