A tufted titmouse grabs a seed from a snow covered bird feeder during a snowstorm, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in North Andover, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

A tufted titmouse grabs a seed from a snow covered bird feeder during a snowstorm, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in North Andover, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Taylor: Language doesn’t need words

Don’t expect God to speak to you in any common tongue, faith columnist Jim Taylor says

Don’t tell me that animals can’t talk.

Maybe not in words, the way we do. The Oxford English Dictionary lists over 600,000 definitions and word forms.

There is no way that any animal – even any human – has a vocabulary that size. But they do have vocabularies.

Recent studies of prairie dogs have discovered that they have a wide range of whistles and squeaks, with clear meanings.

We can’t hear the differences, or maybe we’re unwilling to hear them. But the computer, endlessly patient, endlessly analytical, has identified specific sounds for different dangers: a coyote, an eagle, a human….

At the start of winter, I fill my bird feeder with sunflower seeds.

For several days, not one bird came to dinner. Then a single junco arrived, pecked, and flew away. The day after that, a handful of scrappy little finches showed up.

The third day, a single quail appeared.

Now, quail are ground birds. They’d rather run than fly, little legs blurring beneath them like the Roadrunner’s in that cartoon. And they are not loners.

They travel in flocks, so many that sometimes the earth itself seems to be moving. But for some reason, this one flew up to check. Alone.

And the next day, dozens of quail swarmed over the feeder, climbing over each other, double-deckering on each other’s backs, to get at the treasure trove of sunflower seeds. They had to have had a way of passing the good news around.

Their own social media?

Other examples abound.

Killer whales in Antarctica coordinate their efforts to tip an ice floe, so that the seal seeking safety on top the floe has to skid off.

Acacia trees in Africa warn nearby trees to increase the levels of bitter tannin in their leaves when giraffes approach.

Mother cats have a variety of mews and purrs that clearly convey some kind of instructions to their kittens. The evidence is there. Over and over.

If you can’t see it, there are two possible reasons.

Either you’re deliberately ignoring the evidence. Or you’re so hooked on what you were told once, by a teacher or parent, that you’re unwilling to give up that notion, regardless of evidence.

A friend of mine asserts, unequivocally, that he has never heard God speak to him. Which is probably true enough, if he expects God to speak to him in English. More specifically, in King-James-Bible English. Using Charlton Heston’s voice.

But why should God have to speak in our language, whatever it is? If God must speak English, what would a Hungarian hear? Or a prairie dog?

I suggest that God speaks the only universal language – the language of experience.

God speaks in a lingering kiss. And when the infant cradled in our arms gurgles and coos. When the cat curls up in our lap, and when the first rose of summer opens its petals.

We learn from our experiences. We fit together the jigsaw pieces of awe and wonder, of pain and loss, to create a coherent picture.

Language doesn’t need syntax and grammar, nouns and verbs, subjunctives and pluperfects, to communicate.

Small children know none of those. But when they reach up and take your hand, they speak volumes.

Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country.


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