Passing on from infancy, I came to boyhood, or rather it came to me, succeeding my infancy. The infancy did not depart (for where did it go?) and yet it was no more. For I was no longer a speechless infant, but a chattering boy. This I do remember and have since observed how I learned to speak.
My elders did not teach me words by any particular method (as a little later they taught me other things); but when I was unable to say all I wished and to whomever I desired by whimperings and broken sounds and various gestures which I used to enforce my wishes, I myself began to repeat the sounds in my memory according to the understanding which You, my God, gave me. When they called anything by name and turned toward it as they spoke, I saw and gathered that the object they were pointing out was called by that name. And I understood by their gestures that they meant this thing and nothing else, movements that are the natural language as it were of all nations, expressed by the countenance, glances of the eyes, movements of the limbs, and tones of the voice, indicating the feelings of the mind as it seeks, gets, rejects or avoids certain things. And so by frequently hearing words as they occurred in various sentences, I gradually gathered what they meant. Having formed my mouth to make these sounds, I could then give voice to my will. Thus I exchanged with those about me these current expressions of our wants, and so advanced deeper into the stormy fellowship of human life, still subject to parental authority and the bidding of my elders.
The human body is a wonder isn’t it?! Augustine chose to write about something so natural, so common, that we almost take it for granted, but when we pause to think of it, when we watch our own children begin to grapple with language, when we, as adults, try to learn a new language! – we realize how amazing our gift of speech is.
No one teaches us to speak, and yet we do. At birth, our mouth and tongue are able to pronounce every sound and phoneme. It is only as we begin to speak that we adopt the sounds specific to the language we hear around us.
It doesn’t take us long to discover that our ability to speak gives us power. The piercing shriek of a toddler can stop us in our tracks – and send the child into fits of giggles at our reaction! Through speech we ask questions, process our thoughts, describe our hopes and dreams. We profess love, make promises, and give oaths. We teach, convey wisdom, and whisper solemn good byes.
Unfortunately, our speech can also get us into trouble. We all know the old rhyme, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me,” but the truth is, we can cut others to shreds and cause immense pain with our speech. We can also lie, manipulate, and, in seconds, say things that can destroy a relationship.
There are, according to this website, no less than 100 verses in the Bible about taming our tongues and our speech. It is certainly a part of the human condition to speak without thinking or to say things that are hurtful to the ones we love. Often times, sadly, the ones we love get the worst of us – the short temper, the bad day, the tired and stressed out growls – while the clerk at the grocery store gets our biggest smile. So, knowing that we all fall short on a daily basis and regularly say things we know we shouldn’t, it gives us an opportunity to do something else with our speech – forgive. Even when the other person doesn’t deserve it, even when they have spoken to us in anger for the umpteenth time, forgive, because, before we know it, we’ll be in need of that forgiveness too. Life is too short to let our words destroy each other. Use this beautiful gift of speech to console, heal, love, and most of all, forgive. God bless!!!
Deo Juvante, Jen