During a recent visit to the Canary Islands - which appear to float listlessly across a wide blue stretch of the Atlantic about 130 miles off the northwest coast of Africa - I took my late afternoon stroll through a terraced Tenerife garden.
It was interrupted by the sound of a woman's voice crying, "Bravo! Bravo!"
Not knowing whether to expect a matador or an ebullient croquet player around the next corner, I slowed to a cautious walk. And guess what I found? Nothing more dramatic than a mother and child in the middle of a suppertime routine known the world over. She was shoveling dollops of puree into an elusive little mouth, and rewarding each successful spoon-landing with the Spanish equivalent of "Well done!" or "Good girl!"
From country to country, words are different. But parenting is the same.
Not far away, older children were playing together in a paddling pool. Their laughter filled the air, while their adoring parents billed and cooed in four different languages. The adults, it appeared, could scarcely understand one another; the children had instant rapport. Their shared joy had replaced the need for words. Their hearts did it for them.
I thought of something Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, once wrote: "When the heart speaks, however simple the words, its language is always acceptable to those who have hearts" ("Miscellaneous Writings," pg. 262).
How often do we have to learn this lesson? I thought, as my eyes scanned the Kosovo headlines in a local newspaper, La Gaceta. True communication goes far beyond language, and even beyond culture. Children have it. Child-raising parents have it. Often, without realizing it, they are simply bearing witness to their - and everyone's - shared relation to the universal Parent. To the Father-Mother. To God.
"Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" (also written by Mrs. Eddy) offers a helpful explanation for this, too: "One infinite God, good, unifies men and nations; constitutes the brotherhood of man; ends wars; fulfils the Scripture, 'Love thy neighbor as thyself;' ..." (pg. 340).
If we loved our neighbor (who is never just the person next door) more conscientiously, and really tried to promote the brotherhood and sisterhood of people everywhere, we would feel the resulting sense of unity transforming our lives - and theirs. We would say less that is unnecessary and perhaps unkind, and do more for others. In the quietness that followed, we would hear God speak to us, strengthen us, draw us to one another.
A study of the Gospels in the Bible shows how Jesus chose his words carefully, opting sometimes for silence - or, better still, silent prayer. His key words were simple, and consistently brought transformation. For example: "Rise, take up thy bed, and walk" (John 5:8); "Peace, be still" (Mark 4:39); and, "Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole" (Luke 8:50).
Jesus impressed his followers with the fact that spiritual thinking and compassion best reveal the nature of God and are the best healing influences. He emphasized that the way out of human problems lies in obedience to two great commandments - to love God, and to love one's neighbor (see Matt. 22:35-40).
Even people who spoke a different language got Jesus' message and rejoiced with him. He made it clear that it is God - good itself - who heals, protects, guides, and saves us. Spiritual thoughts, not just words, make this possible.
As I left that Tenerife garden, a liquid "cheer up, cheerily" came toward me through the treetops. Was it a European blackbird, an African bulbul, or an imported American robin? I wondered.
My labeling device had clicked into action again - but only for a moment. I like to think I've learned my lesson. That bird song, vibrant with life and delivered with love, was wordless, universal, harmonious, joyous, beyond my classification or limitation. And, like that hungry little girl, deserving of its own special "Bravo!"
You can read other articles like this one in the Christian Science Sentinel, a weekly magazine.