In Three Languages


In Three Languages

Colton Bernasol

Padres Nuestro que estás en los cielos,

Hallowed be your name,

Mapasaamin ang kaharian Mo.

hagase tu voluntad,

On earth as in heaven.

Bigyan Mo kami ngayon ng aming kakanin sa raw-araw.

Y perdónanos nuestras deudas

as we forgive those who sin against us.

At huwag Mo kaming ipahintulot sa tukso,

Mas líbranos de mal.

During our wedding, my wife and I invited everyone to pray the Lord’s prayer but with a slight modification: We prayed the prayer in three languages, alternating the lines between Spanish, English, and Tagalog. These languages represented our families - with my wife’s family from Michigan and Europe, and my family from the Philippines and the borderlands of Texas and Mexico. Few people could understand all three languages. The rest prayed the familiar prayer in unfamiliar sounds, calling upon God in strange utterances.

When I hear these languages coming together, I am reminded that language mediates our relationship to the world. We experience culture, place, love, and others in language. In this, language bears history, carrying its many uses and associations.

Take the word mijo, or “darling,” as it is translated in English. My grandma calls me mijo. When I hear this word, I don’t think about darling in the abstract. Instead, I recall grandma’s presence: her enchiladas, tortillas, and mole, the way I stand over her when we hug, her face to my chest, and that aged voice that says ‘I love you’ while muffled and teary-eyed. And I think about her time as a farmer traveling across the Midwest in search of work.

Spanish, Tagalog, and English bear a history of violence. The Spanish Empire colonized the Philippines in the 16th century. In the name of Christianity, Spanish missionaries and explorers exploited the indigenous populations. Filipinos fought back and nearly gained their independence. But then the Treaty of Paris of 1898 secured the Philippines as an American colony, and the United States waged war against Filipino revolutionaries who refused submission to another empire. At least 200,000 civilian Filipinos were killed during the war – perhaps a million.

When I hear the prayer in three languages, I think of this history – the confrontation, the loss, and contrast between this history and the world imagined by the prayer itself.

The Lord’s prayer was first taught by Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus taught that God was like a loving parent – Padre Nuestro – whom he could turn to in moments of quiet and at the eve of his death. He prayed for the kingdom of God – Mapassaamin ang Kaharian Mo – believing that divine kinship existed at the margins of society, and that true life and freedom were possible only where those who lacked it gained it. So, Jesus traveled with and befriended the sick, the poor, gentiles, and women. He trusted in this God to provide for the necessities of daily life – Bigyan Mo kami ngayon ng aming kakanin sa raw-araw. And he believed that Padre Nuestro extends forgiveness as the beginning of new life, and that followers of God must offer that same forgiveness to others. This is a God who can keep human beings from evil and whose presence is marked by delivery from the injustices of the world.

It is a potent prayer, and its theological density is made apparent when joined to the burdensome history of Spanish, English, and Tagalog. “Mapasaamin and Kharian Mo” and “Y perdónas nuestras duedas” expresses this story of colonial fracture and the hope for repair. The Tagalog longing for deliverance meets the Spanish confession of transgression. And “On Earth as it is in Heaven” invites the metabolization of God’s repair now. In three languages, past catastrophes encounter the healing work of God.

And yet I find it difficult to believe these languages can join in mutuality. The history of violent encounters speaks for itself. But Jesus’s prayer asks us to be open to just this possibility, that God’s Kharian can take root and transform life in the present.

In fact, this mutual joining did happen. In September of 1965, activists and grape workers in California organized strikes in response to horrible working conditions. The historian Dawn Bohulano Mabalon notes in her book Little Manila is in the Heart: The Making of the Filipina/o American Community in Stockton, California that unions such as the Agricultural Organizing Committee and the National Farm Workers Association worked together to strike and boycott grapes. Filipino, Mexican, White, and Black workers protested in solidarity. And organizers such as Larry Itiolong, Caesar Chavez, and Delores Huerta partnered with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and others to advocate for labor reforms. This was a multiracial movement where laborers came together in a common struggle for liberation.

The 1960s reminds me that these languages need not come together as they once did. This is why we can pray together, “On earth as it is in heaven.” The Delano grape strikes reveal God’s Kharian as a latent possibility that can arise even within the conditions of a violent present and past.

The Lord’s prayer in three languages bears the burden of our histories. It also presses us to remember that God can disturb the violent encounter between differences by drawing them together in the name of liberation.

Because of this, I want to keep praying and embodying the Lord’s prayer in three languages.

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