Let’s talk about the Hebrew language…ancient, that is

It is Sunday evening, and I am sitting at my desk attempting to memorize the Qal Imperfect paradigm of the ancient Hebrew language.  There is a catchy little song attached to the learning process (which you now know if you just followed the link in the previous sentence) but I am going to take a break for a minute to talk to you about what it is like for me to finally have the opportunity to study Biblical Hebrew.

First of all, many of you may not know that I have a Master of Arts in Middle Eastern Studies — from a very, very long time ago, on a planet very, very far away.   The love of the Old Testament, ancient Near Eastern history and culture, and anything really really old predates my love of music and my desire to perform and sing.  I had every intention of being a female version of Indiana Jones and academically I was on that path for quite some time.  Responsibilities and my inability to get a work permit in Canada (I had been accepted into the Egyptology program at the University of Toronto, but needed to be able to work to support myself) caused me to take a different path, away from the academic world.  That path eventually led me to music, and music led me to the doors of the Calvary Baptist Church, and those doors and that community eventually led me to where I am today — studying Hebrew at the Virginia Theological Seminary.

You see, while memorizing the Qal Imperfect may not be your idea of Sunday night fun, apparently it is mine.  Over these past weeks of work and confusion and the occasional small victory, I have remembered many things about a younger version of myself.  I have remembered how fervently I wanted to study the Hebrew language, and how disappointed I was when nothing was offered at my college except the most basic introduction.  I remember the hours I spent looking longingly at the catalog of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem; the hours spent thinking about how exciting it would be to take part in the summer Ulpan so that I could study archaeology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  And I remember how disappointed I was when I wasn’t allowed to go with my mentor, Sister Betty Curtis White, on a summer trip to Israel.  And how I just never got around to learning Hebrew.

All of those memories attached to learning a little old verb paradigm for a language no one really speaks any longer.  And all of those memories brought full circle the first moment our wonderful teacher opened the Hebrew Bible in the original language and read aloud to us.  And all of those memories, all of those memories are wrapped up in every exercise I will do tonight, and tomorrow night, and all the nights that follow.  I didn’t have to learn Hebrew, but I had to learn Hebrew.

And yes, just as all my friends who studied it before me told me, I’m struggling.  Sometimes it just looks like a lot of squiggles on the page.  But I know that this is what I was meant to do, even if I waited many years and traveled many miles between the first time God whispered to me and the moment when I finally listened.  You see, while learning Hebrew may have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with being Baptist, I know that I would have never began to put together these missing pieces of my self if it was not for my loving Baptist friends and fellow pilgrims.

Thank you.  Now, I must get back to work.

2 thoughts on “Let’s talk about the Hebrew language…ancient, that is”

  1. I’m not sure why, but Sister Betty Curtis White popped into my head yesterday. She was my Old Testament professor at Avila College. I loved listening to her stories about Egypt and the archealogy studies she participated in. I remember she gave me a book, of hers, before I left the college. In it she signed, “Follow your star”.

    I didn’t end up taking the path of studying World Religions, but rather became a college English Instructor and Poet. I have often wondered about her.

    I ran across your blog and thought to leave a message thinking you could possibly share what you know of her. The last I saw Sister Betty Curtis White would have been mid 1980’s. A long time ago.

    Cindy

    1. Cindy — This is most amazing. I studied with Sister Better at UMKC, graduating in the early 80’s. Regrettably, the last time I saw her was around 1988 before I left Kansas City. I have not heard of or from her since. I do know that the last time I lunched with her at the convent, she was talking about moving full time to the convent in Jerusalem where she planned to live out her remaining days. I don’t know whether or not she ever did that.

      She was so important to me, and obviously her love of learning and of faith never left me. While I’ve wandered a lot of roads since, I seem to have come full circle. But you make me think…perhaps I will stop at the convent and inquire in November when I am in Jerusalem.

      Thank you for writing me. It sounds like you made a wonderful life with what Sister Betty taught you.

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