Author: Baergen, Helen
Date published: February 8, 2010
"Working on your research?" I ask.
She is, after all, hunched over her Blackberry at the cafeteria table.
"No," she says. "Reading the Bible." She looks up and smiles as I slide into the seat opposite her. "This is so interesting!"
Here from China to get a Ph.D., terms like "effluent, toxic, sludge, and phosphorous" form her usual vocabulary. Yet here she sits reading the story of Jesus and the woman at the well.
In my workplace at the university I teach the right and wrong uses of commas, ways to correct incomplete sentences, and the appropriate presentation of research data in English.
But my faith? My attitude toward my students: Treat them with respect; be the best instructor I can be.
Her lab partner, at his workplace, kept a Bible on the desk alongside bacteriacollecting paraphernalia. In her long hours peering into test tubes, he suggested she take a break, read something different- read the Bible.
She did, and got hooked, and came to me to ask, "Do you read the Bible?"
I entered the conversation carefully. What had she been told? What confusion might I add to her burgeoning questions? How does the language of faith coincide with the language of science? Is the leap too far, too wide? How do I explain a faith that was handed to me on a platter of generations and I had only to take it? What do I really believe? Why do I believe? Do I have the vocabulary to adequately express the things I take for granted? Why would I want someone like her to take on my faith?
She enters each conversation with abandon, fearlessly eager to know. Is God more than an American idea? What's the connection between Jesus and God? Is religion just a way to talk about a higher power? Why do we need to think about God? Do Buddhists and Hindus believe in the same God? What about my friend who does yoga meditation? Is that a way to find God? Why do some people push you so much to say you believe like they do? Is it all about finding peace for yourself, about finding meaning in your life?
She joins me at my church on Baptism Sunday, listens and watches as five people commit themselves through baptism: "Very interesting . . . very interesting ... it feels like you are all family . . . quite emotional, really ..."
I watch and marvel at her delight ... my floundering . . . her new understandings ... my inadequate vocabulary . . . her wonder ... my thrill at hearing myself speak of things long "lax-ed" into easy complacency . . . into smooth forgetfulness.
She has invited me into a conversation that is quite possibly going to "re-birth" me as much as it will help in her being born anew.
Helen Baergen serves as an instructor in the English Language Centre at the University of Manitoba.